BEEVILLE – City Councilman Benny Puente Jr. says he wants to cut in half the water bills of city residents following last week’s water contamination notice.

“I am asking the City Council to approve a 50 percent discount on everyone’s water bill,” said Puente, who serves as mayor pro tem. “It is a significant amount.”

He admits that this will have an impact on the city’s finances.

“That is going to be a huge financial hit,” Puente said. “I don’t care.

“We should have thought about that before this problem started.”

Recently, the city issued a water boil notice to residents after E. coli was found in high amounts in the city’s water.

That notice lasted about a day when the bacteria, known for causing vomiting and diarrhea, was found to have cleared the pipes.

Getting to the cause

The councilman said he is also going to ask for permission to investigate the water department to find out what went wrong.

“I am asking them to allow me to investigate the water department with a civilian from Bee County,” Puente said.

That civilian is former Mayor David Carabajal.

“He has a library of information to determine how this happens,” Puente said. “He is going to help me pinpoint where the problem is.”

There has been speculation on the cause with some saying it is a sample taken from stagnant water — an issue identified by LNV Engineering.

“I think it is human error, and there are some communication issues,” Puente said. He adds concern that engineers have yet to present a solution to the problems they identified in a previous study.

“No one has followed up with LNV on that,” Puente said. “We dropped the ball because we have not had any problems until now.

“Yet we have not addressed the problems LNV has told us about. As far I know, they are still working on the plan.

“We have problems. We need to find out how we are going to fix them.

“I am tired of talking about this and that. I want some solutions.”

City Manager Joe B. Montez agreed the water infrastructure needs a significant amount of work.

Aging pipes are clogged, limiting the flow of water.

Water storage tanks are in need of repair.

“We need to have a water line replacement plan,” Montez said.

The recommendations in question need to implemented, and soon, he agreed.

“I wasn’t here when this happened,” he said. “On the 13th of August I will have a plan for city council on how to deal with this problem.

“There are things that need to be done that have never been done.”

He is hoping to get grants for much of the work to avoid using the locally generated tax money.

“We need to have a major investment in water and wastewater,” Montez said. “I want to help this council solve the problems.

“We have to cure this problem instead of kicking this can down the road.”

Recently, city voters approved $10 million to fund repairs and renovations at the Moore Street Wastewater Treatment Plant and the George P. Morrill, I Water Treatment Plant at Swinney Switch.

Of that, approximately $3 million will be invested in improvements to the Swinney Switch treatment plant, and the remainder will be spent on modernizing the wastewater treatment plant.

Montez said it will take anther $1.5 million, not included in the bond, to make the repairs to the ground and overhead storage tanks and a substantial amount more to replace the major water lines that supply the city.

Leaking storage facility

Unlike the water storage facility on North Madison Street, an area identified as especially troublesome where city officials say water sits for extended periods which causes disinfection issues, the one off Farm-to-Market Road 351 is naturally renewing its supply.

One of the ground level tanks next to TSC has been leaking for days — likely longer according to those working in the area — spraying a stream of water onto the ground into an eroded hole.

“That is unbelievable that there is stuff like this happening in town,” Puente said. “There is a breakdown of communication somewhere between those who find problems and getting the information over to the city manager.”

“We are gearing up to fix it,” Montez said. Water levels will need to be lowered first, and then welders can do the necessary work.

“It is not that old,” Montez adds. Installed in 2005, a lack of maintenance, like so much of the water system, is causing it to deteriorate faster than expected.

Hindering economic growth

This past week’s contamination, which came just more than two weeks after another boil notice, isn’t good for a city looking to bolster it’s economic development program.

“Our past administrations have failed the city of Beeville,” Puente said. “This has been going on for 50 plus years.

“We put Band-Aids on things.”

Like in the case of the leaking storage tank, employees say the city doesn’t have the money to fix the problems, Puente said. “All these years that has been the excuse.

“We cannot keep operating like this. We have to have some money from somewhere.”

If the city doesn’t raise taxes to fund the repairs, then it will mean cuts to the budget, the mayor pro tem said.

“We are going to have to dig into that this year,” he said. “There are a lot of programs we are going to cut out.”

Cutting programs, he adds, doesn’t mean cutting jobs as “we are very understaffed in the city.”

That could also mean privatizing the water distribution like was done with its treatment.

Montez said he thinks all the necessary repairs can be done within a year, assuming funding can be secured.

“Talk is cheap,” Montez said. “We need to get into the action and do it.”

Bad water after good

Inframark manages the Morrill water plant at Swinney Switch and the city’s wastewater plant on Cook Road.

“We know the water coming into the city is good, but when it comes out of the city pipes is where we are having problems,” Puente said.

He adds that a test done by Inframark — something the company does as part of its contract with the city — this past week “came back with a bad reading, possibly two.”

“My question to them is, ‘Why didn’t you say something so we could start flushing the lines?’

“I need to get to the bottom of that to make sure these guys are sharing information.”

The sample, which contained the E. coli bacteria, came from a home in the 1400 block of West Springer Street, located in the southwest part of the city.

Montez said he is baffled as to how the sample could contain any contaminants as the water had a high chlorine content.

“We are still at odds as to why we got a positive in that test,” Montez said. “With a chlorine level that high, there is no way you are going to have bacteria.

“Not unless the spigot was bad or dirty. Or after they did the sample, there was some cross contamination.”

Among the changes proposed by Montez is a new sampling method. Secure, sealed boxed will be installed in various spots in the city where samples can be taken. This will prevent any outside contamination from skewing the results.

“Could the lab have made a mistake?” Montez asks.

Puente said that like the residents, he wants to know how, beyond just speculation, the bacteria was found.

“I am a citizen of the city,” Puente  said. “I want answers, too.

“I want a truthful answer.”