Carl’s Corner is a town of 198 people located in the northeastern Hill County in the northern part of Central Texas. The county seat of Hillsboro is seven miles southwest of Carl’s Corner. The town is named for Carl Cornelius, a longtime friend of country music singer Willie Nelson and owner of a local truck stop recognized by travelers for the large dancing frogs on top of the diesel sign. The property adjacent to the truck stop was the site of several Willie Nelson Fourth of July concerts in the early 1980s, which seemed to be the catalyst for the town’s formation. Residents in Carl’s Corner enjoy local parks, museums, and restaurants. The town’s history makes it an interesting place for travelers to stop while passing through the central part of Texas.

In early 2021, Communities Unlimited (CU) began working with the town of Carl’s Corner to assist them with obtaining funding for an additional groundwater well. The mayor of Carl’s Corner, Susan Ezell, and CU staff worked together on the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund (DWSRF) application, including submitting the Project Information Form (PIF) to the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) for a grant to drill a new, larger, and deeper groundwater well, estimated to cost $870,000.

Since the cost was going to be high, Carl’s Corner was also looking at other options. CU staff worked with Mayor Ezell to include information from the town’s budget in the application and discussed options for an additional water supply for Carl’s Corner. Through this review process, CU staff discovered that Carl’s Corner had many needs. Not only did the town need an additional groundwater well, but they also needed assistance with some maintenance and repair issues. CU worked closely with the community to guide Carl’s Corner on mitigating these many issues CU staff investigated alternative supply options for Carl’s Corner with the nearby Files Valley Water Supply Corporation (WSC) and received a proposed contract to provide water. Carl’s Corner leadership felt the contract was unfair. CU staff reviewed the proposed contract and worked with the towns to modify it to include more lenient terms, which Carl’s Corner would then consider with the suggested changes.

Winter Storm Uri 2021 and the Aftermath
Along with the many existing challenges, winter weather in February 2021 caused all customers to be without water for over 11 days. Carl’s Corner told customers to let their faucets drip to prevent pipes from freezing. However, it had the opposite result: Running more water than the system could supply caused the pipes at the well to freeze and burst and the well pump to burn out from the excess pressure. Carl’s Corner was not alone—more than 800 water systems were affected by the freezing temperatures throughout Texas, making repair parts difficult to find. Numerous field problems caused the town to suffer an extended water outage. Finally, in March, Carl’s Corner purchased the needed parts and pumps and made the repairs required to restore service.

CU continued to assist Mayor Ezell through virtual meetings and phone calls to discuss the DWSRF application for a new well. In April, Mayor Ezell filed a preliminary grant application because of the continued assistance for emergency repairs and other pertinent equipment needed to bring the system into compliance with Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) requirements. In addition to the new well, Carl’s Corner’s plan included a pump station, ground storage, pressure tank, booster pumps, and an auto control system with a fully operational generator system. A virtual meeting was then held with CU to discuss purchasing water from Files Valley WSC, the concept of drilling a new groundwater well, and how to access Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) funds for winter storm damages.

On July 12, 2021, CU staff traveled to Carl’s Corner to meet with the mayor. They discussed future grant applications that the city may qualify for, TCEQ violations issued for current well and transfer pump capacity, and the purchase of new equipment, buildings, large transfer pumps, and a pressure tank. The discussion of purchasing water from Files Valley WSC continued, recognizing that purchasing wholesale water rather than drilling a new well can be a hard sell. The mayor was advised to employ an engineer as soon as possible and a full-time operator to navigate the system’s needs, as the town currently uses a part-time contract operator. CU again offered its assistance and continued to meet with the mayor throughout the summer to discuss funding opportunities and alternatives to address the problem, including a Water Purchase Agreement with Files Valley WSC. They also discussed engineering firm utilization short-term and long-term plans, TCEQ violations, and U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development (USDA RD) funding.

CU Continues to Help Communities Unlimited staff are still working with the mayor of Carl’s Corner on the application for the new groundwater well and the city’s other needs. There have been multiple emails, phone calls, site visits, and virtual meetings. CU has worked with them to establish short- and long-term goals and will continue to assist the city of Carl’s Corner. The city is grateful for everything CU has done to help them.

Tom Fulton

Tom Fulton

Communities Unlimited
East Texas Coordinator