Harlingen residents could soon see higher water bills

Harlingen Waterworks System office is pictured Thursday, Nov. 3, 2022, in Harlingen. (Denise Cathey/The Brownsville Herald)
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HARLINGEN — Water rates will be going up to help fund a proposed sewer system overhaul carrying a price tag as high as $107 million.

Earlier this week, a consultant proposed average household water rate increases as high as 8 to 11%.

While Tim Skoglund, general manager of the city’s WaterWorks System, proposed commissioners set new rates early next year, City Manager Gabriel Gonzalez said the rates might be going into effect as early as mid 2024.

“We’re in the middle of a rate study,” Skoglund told officials during Wednesday’s meeting of city commissioners and WaterWorks board members. “There are a lot of questions that have to be answered.”

During discussion, Mayor Norma Sepulveda proposed slowly carrying out new rates.

“Folks are hurting right now in our community and I know there’s going to have to be some type of increase, but I want to be very careful in how we’re doing that and making sure we’re not increasing at such a high rate so quickly,” she told officials.

Based on monthly household usage of 7,000 gallons of water and 5,000 gallons of wastewater, WaterWorks’ contracted Willdan consultant proposed increasing monthly rates from about 8.1% to 11.9%.

Meanwhile, Skoglund requested commissioners meet to discuss a rate plan next month.

During a presentation, Skoglund unveiled a $107 million sewer project aimed at upgrading the system in which pipes are overloading, spurring some sewage overflows.

“Without capacity improvements, new flows from growth exacerbates existing overloading and will increase sewer overflows and backups,” he told officials. “Because of the deficiencies that exist in our current system, there are a lot of sewer projects in the first five-year plan.”

The Harlingen Waterworks System office is pictured Thursday, Nov. 3, 2022, on East Van Buren Avenue in Harlingen.(Denise Cathey/The Brownsville Herald)

The project includes construction of a main “interceptor” pipeline while building a deeper lift station and installing gravity lines to eliminate old lift stations, he said.

“My concern is, if it’s necessary to delay these projects by a long period of time, you find yourself in the future in a worse place than we are today,” Skoglund told officials.

To fund the project, he said, the Texas Water Development Board might offer funding ranging from about $18 million to $24 million.

In September, the agency granted WaterWorks a $10 million low-interest loan to fund the project’s design phase, which could take one to two years to complete, Skoglund said.

During the upcoming year, WaterWorks plans to apply for a new round of funding, he said.