City turning old sewer ponds into wetlands

SAN BENITO — The city’s old sewer ponds are ready for a complete makeover.

After eight years, a model project is turning more old sewer ponds into wetlands developed to help clean the waters of the Arroyo Colorado.

Now, the city plans to fill 10 new ponds in the area targeted as the future site of a nature park off Line 20 Road near Williams Road.

The city will use a $6,000 grant from the Texas General Land Office to buy a pump to fill the ponds, part of a 165-acre site being transformed into a wetlands area.

The wetlands will help clean agricultural runoff discharged into the Arroyo Colorado, the General Land Office states on its website.

The project “will restore the remaining 10 ponds at the 165-acre water treatment property along the arroyo and utilize them to water and treat nearby agricultural runoff before entering the Arroyo Colorado,” the website states.

“Evaporation and utilization by vegetation will reduce the amount of fresh water impacting the hypersaline seagrass ecosystem in the Laguna Madre.”

The money to buy the pump is part of a $100,000 grant used to fund the second phase of the program launched in 2009.

“Ultimately, the grant will help improve the environment and provide an educational and recreational activity for the community,” city spokeswoman Martha McClain said in a statement.

Now, a walking trail winds along four ponds, part of a 14-acre area of old sewer ponds transformed into wetlands during the project’s first phase.

The project stems from the city’s response to a hefty fine.

In 2005, the state fined the city about $3 million for discharging inadequately treated sewer water into the Arroyo Colorado, officials said.

As part of an agreement, the state agreed to waive payment if the city launched a project to turn its old sewer ponds into wetlands, officials said.