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HARLINGEN — The city’s WaterWorks System is landing the start-up money to launch a sewer plant overhaul ranging from $80 million to $100 million — the “foundation” of a 20-year master plan whose total costs are projected to climb to about $200 million.
Earlier this week, the Texas Water Development Board voted to grant the WaterWorks System a $10 million low-interest loan aimed at designing a list of projects making up the planned $100 million sewer system upgrade.
“Our sewer system really needs some work,” Tim Skoglund, the WaterWorks Systems’ general manager, told water board members here as part of a tour of Rio Grande Valley cities.
The old sewer system’s problems are projected to lead manholes to overflow, he told the board during a meeting.
“This is very much needed,” he said.
Now, the WaterWorks System is conducting a study to set new water rates to help fund the overall project.
“It will help reduce the amount the community will have to bear,” Skoglund told board members, referring to his request for the $10 million loan.
Before the board entered discussions, Mayor Norma Sepulveda said the loan would help WaterWorks keep down water rate hikes.
“It’s our responsibility to provide the basic needs for our people,” she told board members. “The Texas Water Development Board can lighten the load. We want to do our best to keep rates (down) for our people.”
Water board: ‘Financials excellent’
Amid discussion, board member George Peyton described the sewer system’s upgrade as “critical to the community.”
Like Peyton, board Chairwoman Brooke Paup said the city’s finances show it can pay back the money.
“Harlingen is very well run,” she said. “Financials are excellent.”
Planning to stop sewer overflows
During the meeting’s intermission, Skoglund described the old sewer system’s overhaul as critical to correct problems leading to overflows.
“The master plan showed a lot of deficiencies in our sewer system,” he said in an interview. “These projects are needed immediately to address existing problems.”
The project’s construction costs are estimated to climb $80 million to $100 million, Skoglund said, adding he applied to the water board for that funding in March.
Skoglund described the $100 million overhaul as “the foundation” of the WaterWorks System’s 20-year master plan, whose total costs are projected to reach about $200 million.
“What we’re doing here is the foundation for the next 20 years,” he said.
Now, Skoglund is planning to use the water board’s $10 million loan to fund the sewer system overhaul’s design phase.
“That would put a major dent in what we’ve got to do here,” City Commissioner Frank Morales, who attended the water board’s meeting, said in an interview.
As part of the project, officials are planning to upgrade a sewer plant lift station, a main pipeline known as an interceptor, along with trunk lines leading to the main pipeline, Skoglund said.
Officials are planning to launch the first leg of construction within 12 to 18 months, he said.
Skoglund, who applied for the $10 million loan in March 2022, said he requested a 20-year to 30-year term, adding the loan’s interest rate hasn’t been determined.
Water rate study
As part of the project, the WaterWorks System is conducting its first water rate study in about 10 years, planning to determine the extent of the upcoming rate hikes.
Skoglund, who’s described the agency’s water and sewer rates as some of the Valley’s lowest, is counting on the water board’s help to fund part of the overall $200 million project.
“That ultimately impacts customers,” he said, referring to water rates. “It helps reduce the amount of revenue you need to fund.”
In 2019, the WaterWorks System hired Freese and Nichols, a Fort Worth-based engineering consulting firm, for $500,000 to develop the master plan aimed at planning water and sewer upgrades through 2040.
As part of the master plan, WaterWorks is planning to build a new water tower.
Meanwhile, the agency will also be planning to design a new sewer plant, consultants have said.
Officials are planning to build the proposed sewer plant after the master plan’s 20-year span.