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2015-02-19

City approves app for municipal well

By Judith Pannebaker BCC Editor

The City of Bandera took another step closer to ameliorating its increasing water woes.
To alleviate projected water shortages, a resolution was approved during a council meeting on Thursday, Feb. 5, enabling the city to submit an application to the Texas Community Development Block Grant Program - an arm of the US Department of Agriculture - for the Community Development Fund. If approved, sometime down the road, the grant would fund another municipal well.
City Administrator Lamar Schulz indicated the new commercial well would be drilled "in the Middle Trinity Aquifer, one mile north of the city limits - away from current wells." However, no property has yet been purchased or even designated.
Referencing a "cone of depression" created when too many wells are installed within a close proximity. Councilman Jim Hannah hoped the proposed commercial well north of Bandera "wouldn't compete with local wells."
The grant would be for $275,000, leaving the city to contribute $370,000 to the effort. Although the city's portion left most council members nonplussed, Schulz noted, "The city must show responsibility for the $370,000 not covered by the grant."
When concerns were raised about drilling the well in a rapidly depleting Middle Trinity, Schulz said it would cost an additional $200,000 to $300,000 to drill the proposed well in the Lower Trinity Aquifer. Reportedly, engineer Brian Cope, president of Klein Cope Engineering, had used a well located in the Middle Trinity to estimate the cost of the project.
After Hannah suggested studying both options, Schulz said council must approve the numbers immediately. "We have to commit to the local match within two weeks," Schulz explained. Additionally, the estimated total cost of the project must be included in the grant application.
"The application only indicates the city wants to drill a well," Margaret J. Hardin, grants administrator with Austin's Langford Community Management Services, reminded council. She added, "And that, when the project is done, the well will serve the community."
Still focused on the city's leonine share of the grant, Mayor Pro Tem Suzanne Schauman asked if the $370,000 would come from the utility fund.
Both Schulz and Hardin assured her that other funding sources, including low cost loans and additional grants, would be available to meet the necessary match. Hardin also noted that the grant - if funded at all - would not become available until 2016.
"However, the city must make a commitment and include the cost estimate in the application," Hardin reiterated. The grant, she said, would be a two-year contract and the project must be completed within that time period.
Texas Community Development Block Grant programs are specific for cities with a population of less than 50,000 people and for non-urban counties with a total population of less than 200,000 residents. Additionally, any proposed citywide project must benefit 51 percent of the population who have been identified as to having low to moderate income.
As Hardin stated earlier, the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development's (HUD) Section 8 sets the limits for allowable income for city residents. The median income for a family of four in Bandera County is $58,800. Moderate income is considered to be 80 percent or less of the median income, making it $47,050 for a family of four.
After discussions, council approved the motion to submit the application and begin the process. Referring to the city's ongoing water dilemma, Councilman Glenn Clark noted, "We have a problem and the solution isn't going to get easier down the road."
Another watery item concerned an application from the city to the Texas Water Development Board Research and Planning Fund. The 50-50 grant, which would cost the city $34,250, would explore the reuse of wastewater. The reclaimed "gray water" could be utilized by the city for irrigation or sold to other entities for the same purpose.
"This would save the city money," said Schulz, "and it's part of the regional state water plan." The purpose, he continued, would decrease the use of potable water for irrigation of golf courses and athletic fields, among others.
Engineer Tom Smith of Austin's Nai Smith Engineering indicated that the reuse program would contribute to decreased pumping of the Middle Trinity Aquifer, which, according to studies, is in a steady decline. As a first step to effluent reuse, the grant would fund a "significant" engineering study. As one part of the study, "stakeholders" would meet for a frank discussion of current pumping and future needs.
As Mayor John Hegemier correctly predicted, the motion passed because, as he put it, "Nobody will vote against applying for a grant."
In other business, council voted unanimously to terminate the city's contract with the Flying L PUD (Public Utility District). "The contract was signed in July 2012, but the city shouldn't be providing the services," Schulz said, citing a paucity of municipal employees with necessary licensure. "We should concentrate on city utilities."
Schulz will notify the Flying L administrators of council's decision by certified mail within the requisite 60 days.