Attempt to access EDC funds for water fails

By SHELLY WILKISON

Struggling to find water to meet current demands while preparing for future growth is the continuing challenge for the City of Liberty Hill.

And while Mayor Jamie Williamson presented a case to the City Council this week for additional funding from the city’s Economic Development Corp. for water infrastructure, her request was rejected.

In recent weeks, the Council authorized the City Attorney to enter negotiations with the City of Leander regarding options for accessing Liberty Hill’s 650 acre feet of water reserved in Lake Travis. Some of those discussions have occurred in executive session, but Mayor Williamson reported to the Council in open meeting Monday that the situation is serious and she believes the time has come to access those water reserves.

The Mayor said that EDC has $500,000 of unused funds and as the city proceeds with negotiations with the City of Leander, having those funds available would make it possible to obtain Liberty Hill’s water by building connecting water lines to Leander.

To supplement its water supply, the City of Liberty Hill currently contracts with Chisholm Trail Special Utility District for up to 100,000 gallons of water per day. The Mayor said the City pays Chisholm Trail $4.33 per 1,000 gallons and passes along a $6 surcharge to city water customers.

Adding that water levels have dropped about two feet in the past two weeks, Public Works Superintendent Brian Kirk said the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality requires the city to produce 1.6 gallons of water per minute per customer or 370 gallons per minute for its total customer base.

Currently, Liberty Hill wells are producing 402 gallons per minute, which is only 32 gallons more than what is required, Kirk said.

“We can’t handle but maybe another 30-40 connections,” Kirk said.

Mayor Williamson explained that finding long-term solutions to the city’s continuing water shortage is critical. In light of proposed developments that could add hundreds of future water customers within two years, finding another water source is important.

“TCEQ gave us notice of violation that our five wells are not providing enough water for the number of connections we have,” she said. “Even with two new wells coming on, we’re not going to get

capacity there. In reality, we’re still not in compliance with TCEQ, but we have satisfied them that we’re still working (to find solutions).

“My attitude is we should try not to use any Chisholm Trail water and allow the city to grow off water it has already paid for from Lake Travis,” the Mayor said.

She told The Independent Wednesday that relying completely on Chisholm Trail for backup is not enough.

“All it takes is a major leak and we would reach our 100,000 gallon limit quickly,” she said, adding that once the limit is reached, the water to the city is shut down.

The Mayor said she attempted to discuss the urgency of the matter with the EDC Board during a special meeting Monday afternoon, but President Frank Spinosa would not allow her to speak. At that meeting, EDC Board members discussed the issue and agreed that more information is needed. The Board voted unanimously to send the matter to the City Council with the request that a plan for use of the funds be developed.

Hours later, a motion by Council member Vicki Brewer to request $500,000 in EDC funds along with a provision to carry two years worth of debt payment on that as a loan failed to get a second.

Council members Wendell McLeod  and Connie Fuller voted no. McLeod suggested the city could issue water bonds to pay for the connection. Mrs. Fuller said she had knowledge that Chisholm Trail was preparing to construct a water line along US Highway 183.

“I’d like to see the city go to Chisholm Trail and see if we could get water at a lower rate than what it would be if we partnered with Leander,” Mrs. Fuller said.

Mayor Williamson said the city is already struggling to make an annual payment of $162,000 to repay bonds used to build the sewer system in 2006-2007. The $8 million loan was secured with ad valorem tax revenue and sewer connections, but to date there are only 191 hookups.

“I hoped the EDC would do their job and assist the city by putting $500,000 in so we could show Leander we had it,” the Mayor said.

She told The Independent that the negotiations with Leander will continue despite the lack of EDC support.