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Reverse osmosis plant could get private funding
by Gary Kent
Jul 20, 2013 | 1497 views | 0 0 comments | 19 19 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Bill Norris, NorrisLeal Engineering Water
Bill Norris, NorrisLeal Engineering Water
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BEEVILLE – Members of the City Council’s Citizens Committee, appointed to study water supply alternatives, began to line up behind two proposed solutions to the dwindling lake levels at Lake Corpus Christi and Choke Canyon Reservoir when they met Monday evening.

By a narrow margin of eight to seven, the majority of the committee members apparently were beginning to support a proposal made by Bill Norris, one of the principals of NorrisLeal Engineering Water of Austin.

In a meeting last Thursday evening, Norris made what some of the committee members thought was an offer too good to refuse.

“NorrisLeal is willing to front the millions of dollars needed to fund the entire project,” committee member Garry Cude said in a prepared statement.

“The City of Beeville would not have to pay for the infrastructure of the alternate water supply,” Cude continued.

He also pointed out that the city would have no raw water costs associated with the project because the water would come from wells drilled inside the city limits. And there would be no need for another bond election because the engineering company would finance the project.

The city would pay NorrisLeal for the water it uses at a rate comparable to the current rate, and the city could take over the operation after a 20-year or less payback period.

“If Beeville did not use 3.5 million gallons per day of lake water, it would equate to $1.1 million per year of savings in water purchase costs,” Cude said.

The savings, Cude said, could then be used to fund another alternative water supply for the city without affecting water rates.

But not every committee member agreed with Cude.

Committee Chairman John Galloway said he believes developing wells in the aquifer around the Chase Field Industrial and Airport Complex would be a better option for Beeville.

He thinks that would be the least expensive alternative, and a system could be developed in the least amount of time.

“There is a pipeline already in place to bring it to town,” Galloway said. “It can be blended with lake water without much treatment. There is plenty of availability. The first thing the city needs to do is secure the rights to as much water as they can, especially for the future.”

“The next priority would be to make sure that all the maintenance needed at the George P. Morrill Plant is finished as soon as possible,” Galloway said. “We need to make sure that most of the water reaches the storage facilities for use.”

Galloway said that once a secure plan is in place the city could begin the job of researching the true cost of an RO plant. The former mayor said he has researched the costs of operating an RO plant and has been told that the cost of running such a plant “are very high.”

Galloway has said repeatedly that his concern is for low-income and elderly residents of the city who cannot afford to see their water bills increase by $80 per month.

In his presentation last week, Norris assured the committee that his plan would be possible and that it would not increase taxes or water rates.

He said the project he had previously designed for the city, which would include a well drilled in the brackish Jasper aquifer and another drilled in the sweeter Evangeline aquifer, would be the least expensive project he has worked on in Texas.

That would be in spite of the cost of building a reverse osmosis plant to filter suspended solids and chlorides out of the brackish water.

When asked about the cost of disposing of the concentrate from an RO plant, Norris said the expected salt content of the water in the Jasper is about half that found in other locations in the state. He estimated that only about one-third to one-half of the water pumped from the Jasper would been to be filtered and treated.

Norris added that little manpower is needed to operate an RO plant. He said existing city employees could be cross-trained to monitor the plant.

When asked about disposing of the concentrate from an RO plant, Leal told the committee that the city already is in the process of obtaining a discharge permit. If the permit is approved by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, it would cost the city nothing to discharge the concentrate into Poesta Creek.

When it was mentioned that property owners downstream could complain or sue over the saltier water being dumped into the creek, Leal said that the RO plant in Brownsville is the largest in the state and its concentrate actually improves the quality of water when it is discharged into one of the streams.

Any disagreements from land owners would be settled during the permitting process, Norris said.

Committee member Jim Crumrine said he and member Kenneth Elsbury visited the discharge site outside of Donna where concentrate from an RO plant is pumped into a drainage ditch, and he saw grass growing along the ditch.

He said that concentrate contains a higher level of salt than the 8,000 parts per million that would be discharged into the Poesta.

Also, Crumrine said, the concentrate would be blended with water being discharged into the creek at the city’s wastewater treatment plant on Cook Road. That would further dilute the salt content of water entering the creek.

Monday night, Crumrine and Cude heard support from committee members Jessy T. Garza, Tom Healey and Elsbury for the NorrisLeal plan.

Others who voiced support for the concept included Teresa Holland, Orlando Vasquez and Kathlyn Patton.

Later in the meeting, committee member Raul Casarez seemed to support the NorrisLeal proposition, although he originally had said he had nothing to report that night.

Galloway had support from Yvonne Dunn, Tom Beasley, Richard Beasley, Roy Galvan and Carlos Perez. Adan Perez, who retired from the city’s water department several years ago, said he was in favor of rehabilitating the city’s existing wells.

Carlos Perez was not at Monday’s meeting, but he sent his comments with Roy Galvan. Committee member Tonja Rice also was absent from the Monday meeting.

Holland said she supported the NorrisLeal proposal because that plan would allow the city to own its wells. The city would not have to negotiate lease agreements with neighboring land owners.

Others on the committee said that by drilling a well into the prolific Jasper aquifer the city would never have to worry about its well running dry.

But several committee members were not convinced that NorrisLeal would be able to provide the city with low-cost water for 20 years without ever increasing rates.

Norris himself said last week that the most significant cost associated with running an RO plant would be electrical power. And on Monday, some committee members said the cost of electricity is certain to increase in the future.

But Healey, an attorney, reminded committee members that the city would be protected from rising electric rates by whatever would be agreed to in the contract between the engineers and the city.

Garza reminded committee members that he is a numbers man, and he took the figures previously provided by Galloway and compared them to those offered by Norris to compare the costs of the two concepts.

Then he increased the prospective costs three times by different percentage points and was able to show that the NorrisLeal project would be less expensive than leasing wells at Chase Field and land owners along the State Highway 202 corridor.

Committee members will meet again Thursday at 6 p.m. at the city’s events center, 111 E. Corpus Christi St. The meetings are open to the public. Mayor David Carabajal and Councilman George P. “Trace” Morrill have been attending all of the meetings as observers.

The committee has until next month to make its final recommendation to the City Council because if the city believes it will need to call another bond election, it must take action by the end of August.

Gary Kent is a reporter at the Bee-Picayune and can be reached at 358-2550, ext. 120, or at reporter@mySouTex.com.
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