Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced on October 12, 2021 that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is investing $307 million to modernize rural drinking water and wastewater infrastructure for 270,000 people living in rural communities, across 37 states and Puerto Rico. Three of the projects totaling $13.4 million are located in Texas. USDA is investing in water infrastructure in rural and colonia communities that need it most to assist them with building their communities  and work with them to improve rural infrastructure. The Texas communities that CU has worked with who are receiving funding are Siesta Shores, Falcone Heights, El Sauz, Bruni, Floresville and Marilee.

Below are some of their stories.

Siesta Shores Water Control and Improvement

Siesta Shores Water Control and Improvement District (WCID) is part of a colonias in an unincorporated community in Zapata County, Texas. Siesta Shores is located between Laredo and Rio Grande City in South Texas along the U.S./Mexico border.

Communities Unlimited (CU) was contacted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to assist Siesta Shores WCID with their letter of conditions (LOC), a list of requirements that must be met by recipients of USDA loan funds.

Siesta Shores received a grant for $220,000 to replace a collapsed water tower and make other systems improvements. LOCs can be lengthy, and the system can incur additional costs to meet the requirements. Water towers are custom made depending on the needs of the system and take quite a bit of time to fabricate and construct. 

One of the requirements of the LOC was for the system to install new meters because the meters were not accurately recording water usage preventing the system from charging appropriate rates and monitoring water loss. CU is working with Siesta Shores WCID on locating their meters and possibly mapping them with a GIS mapping technology.

Anytime CU works with a community we conduct a Technical, Managerial and Financial Assessment or TMF Assessment to ensure that we are offering the best level of service. Siesta Shores assessment showed several areas with opportunity for improvement including reviewing their accounting system, conducting a rate study to ensure that the system can meet all their financial obligations, board member and office staff training. Board training has already been completed with the recently elected board, and office training is in progress. Communities Unlimited will continue to assist Siesta Shores WCID when and where they need us.

Bruni Rural Water 

Bruni Rural Water Supply Corporation gets Assistance with Their Letter of Conditions. In February of 2017, Communities Unlimited, Cesario Vela started working with Bruni Rural Water Supply Corporation to assist them with meeting United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Letter of Conditions (LOC). CU Staff downloaded water system information from the Texas Drinking Water Watch Website and saved the information to Excel and Word documents.

In September of 2017, CU Staff made another site visit and followed up with the Office Manager, Priscilla Solano, on the status of the project. The project remained under construction for several months. In February of 2021, Bruni Rural Water Supply Corporation had cost overruns to remove arsenic. This required CU to submit cost overrun totals.

CU hosted 14 Water and Wastewater Virtual classes from May 26 to September 30, 2021. The classes were free of charge. CU continued to stay in touch through text. In August of 2021, CU worked with Bruni Rural WSC on a funded colonia project that will remove the arsenic from the water. They are also still assisting with the LOC and other constructions issues as they arise. The Bruni Rural WSC asked about more on-line classes and CU explained that the classes are free. CU continues to work with Bruni Rural WSC to assist their needs. Bruni received a $3.6 million grant.

Falcon Rural Water Supply Corporation

CRG helps town after tower collapses and cuts water service
The small town just outside of McAllen, Texas, was enjoying a typical Friday evening in October, until an odd sound pierced the air.
Metal grinding. Water rushing. Then silence.
It was Oct. 12, 2007, and the town’s aging, ground water storage tank collapsed, sending more than 60,000 gallons of water – most of the town’s supply – spewing over the landscape. In a matter of seconds, all that was left was a pile of twisted metal and puddles of water left behind as the rest gushed across the ground toward the Rio Grande River.
Suddenly, about 1,000 families were without a basic necessity, and officials with the Falcon Rural Water Supply Corp. had no idea how soon they could get safe drinking water flowing to their customers again.
They called Raul Gonzales Jr., operations management specialist from the Brownsville, Texas, office of Community Resource Group (CRG), who headed to the plant to help after putting in a call to CRG’s main office to start work on an emergency loan.
Corporation officials soon submitted an emergency loan application, which CRG began processing Oct. 16, three days after the collapse.
Meanwhile, the water system’s board of directors agreed to purchase an 82,000-gallon tank that was already constructed. The board approved the new tank’s purchase on Oct. 18 and sent a figure to CRG.
CRG approved a loan of up to $100,000 for the water system within two weeks of their request.
The new tank is on-site and awaiting installation once inspections are complete. They received a $3.8 million grant for their upgrades.

El Sauz

Communities Unlimited worked with El Sauz Water Supply Corporation (WSC) to improve the quality of their drinking water for the system’s residents. The improvements included the addition of chemical injection equipment, replacing metal service lines and rehabilitating a 24-year-old standpipe and replacing the internal and external coaling systems. They also upgraded electrical, valve and pump replacements at two booster stations and an extension of a new for-inch waterline. The system received a $3.2 million grant for the upgrades.

Floresville, TX

In 2015 Communities Unlimited assisted the City of Floresville in meeting the conditions for $427,000 in funding from USDA RD first by performing an FMT assessment. Then working with the city to complete an emergency response plan, a security vulnerability assessment, an operating plan, a sewer department operating budget and cash flow project and sewer rate analysis. The $427,000 is going towards increasing the capacity of the wastewater system as well as adding additional treatment processes. The city received an additional loan from USDA to make improvements to their water system. The improvements include installing a new larger storage tank at the Plaza Water Plant, inspecting and repairing wells, installing new meters that can read wirelessly saving the city time and money, the replacement of older water lines that have begun to degrade and renovation to city hall to ensure accessibility and Fire/Life Safety code compliance.

Helen Martinez, the accountant for the City of Floresville in charge of managing the funds said,

“In the past two years we have gained several retail establishments to include the Floresville Retail Center which contains a Caparelli’s Italian Restaurant, Divas nails and AT&T store. We also now have a CVS Pharmacy and construction in progress for a Taco Bell. We have also gained an assisted living center and a Corner Store. This has gained approximately 100 jobs as a result of the infrastructure improvements. These projects are definitely paving the way for stronger future and could not have been achieved with the invaluable assistance from Communities Unlimited, Inc. Thanks again for your support. Our citizens our indebted to your commitment to making rural communities be a more viable and strengthened place to live.”