‘Red water’ fix: $25 million

Council visitors oppose $6 water rate hike in lively hearing
Reporter Editor

City council chambers were packed Monday with Rockdale residents objecting to ‘red water’ and proposed hike in base water rates. 
Reporter/Mike Brown City council chambers were packed Monday with Rockdale residents objecting to ‘red water’ and proposed hike in base water rates. Reporter/Mike Brown Mayor Larry Jones had some classic good news and bad news for about 30 persons in a lively budget hearing Monday at City Hall.

The good news: Rockdale’s sixdecade long “red water” problem can be fixed.

The bad news: It will cost $25 million.

Red water and the city’s proposed $6 per month hike in base water rates dominated discussion in the public hearing, which featured a few pointed exchanges.

The city council had planned to go into session and select a trash disposal company for negotiation but was unable to do that after one councilman left, leaving the panel one short of the quorum needed to transact business.

‘RED WATER’—Several visitors criticized the recurring red water problem, with some linking it to the proposed rate hike.

“ You ought to be giv ing it (water) away,” Bill Gross said.

Gross, who told the council he was “about as highly certified as you can get” said he offered his services to help fix the water system to former City Manager T. Flemming and was never contacted by the city.

Gross said he had built designed, operated and managed water systems. Barbara Gross said her husband was public works director for the City of Galveston and sits on the state regulatory board.

Jones said city water contains iron and manganese, causing the red water problem.

He said engineers have told the city a reverse osmosis treatment facility would “clear the water up” at a price of $10 million.

“But then that water would go into pipes that have been here since the 1920s,” he said. “Replacing them would be another $15- million, that’s a total of $25-million.”

Jones said such an expense would require a bond issue or could cause base water bills to rise over $100 per month.

He pointed out that visitors in the room were objecting to a $20 per month basic rate.

Gross said other options to fix the red water problem exist, including “static bursting” techniques and said he believed installation and use of a fixed network water meter system, allowing meters to be read remotely, could lead to large savings.

City Manager Kelvin Knauf said meters of the kind described by Gross are in the new bud- get. “But nobody can guarantee they’re going to increase our revenues,” he said.

WATER TOWER—Vernon Landrum addressed the council, noting that the proposed basic water rate increase was 41.5 percent and asked the council to table it or let the citizens vote on the matter.

“We don’t need to do it (raise the rates),” he said. “No business would ever come to town.”

The increase is earmarked for a new 500,000-gallon water tower.

Jones said since 2002 the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) has told the city it isn’t meeting minimum water pressure, putting Rockdale at risk for fire protection, and at some point will begin levying fines.

Landrum said he did not believe the city had adequately informed the public of factors which led it to consider a new tower.

Councilman Allan Miller objected to Landrum’s characterization of the council as “infuriated” upon hearing from Fire Chief Herbie Vaughan that a new fire truck was needed.

Miller polled the council members present with none saying they felt infuriated by the request. The city will begin paying for a new $350,000 pumper in the 2012-2013 budget.

Landrum stood by his statement, saying he “had talked to certain council members.”

Landrum challenged the longtime policy of giving 42 city employees and officials, living within the city limits, their first 15,000 gallons per month free.

Jones, who brought his water bill to the meeting, said he pays the bill anyway.

Council members Melanie Dawson and Joyce Dalley said they would forego the free water, bringing applause from the crowd of visitors.

QUORUM—Only four of the six council members were present with Toby Johnson and Willie Phillips absent.

When Councilman Doug Calame left at 6:30 p.m., the council was one vote short of a quorum and could not legally take any action, although it could continue to discuss city business.

The council had already started a discussion to decide which of three disposal companies to negotiate with.

Calame said he preferred IESI, Miller opted for Waste Management, the current contractor, and Dalley and Dawson preferred Texas Disposal Systems.

In other business, the council was presented a revised city redistricting plan by Tom Pollan of Bickerstaff Heath, Delgado & Acosta.

Again, no action could be taken on the plan, due to lack of a quorum.

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