Harlingen residents complain of septic tank back-ups

dfwnewsa | February 6, 2024 | 0 | East Texas News , South Texas News

HARLINGEN — A group of homeowners tied to septic tanks along the fast-growing west side are complaining sewage back-ups during heavy rains are posing health risks to their families in the city in which about 4,000 of 26,000 utility customers are lacking sewer service.

Now, a $130 million sewer system overhaul projected to boost water rates about 10% will give them a chance to tie into new sewer lines in about five years, officials said.

“That’s just not acceptable, to be living in this community and not being able to use the restroom, not being able to flush the toilet,” Mayor Norma Sepulveda told a group of residents during a meeting. “Those things are really serious. We’re going to work really hard to see what we can do for you.”

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Following a series of meetings, consultants have been considering about 10% hikes in water rates to help fund one of the city’s biggest projects.

Last month, officials set up a committee charged with proposing water rate hikes, appointing Planning and Zoning Commissioners Nick Consiglio, Jesse Gamez, Adele Clinton-Solis, Wandy Cruz-Velasquez, Sergio Perez, Carlos Sanchez and Luis Villarreal along with contractor Armando Casas.

By March, commissioners are expected to consider options, Tim Skoglund, the WaterWorks System’s general manager, said.

During a three-hour meeting, homeowners along Tucker Road called on officials to extend sewer lines into the area.

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“The drains have backed up two times already,” Jennifer Torres, who has lived off Tucker for about two years, told officials during Thursday’s joint meeting of the city commission and WaterWorks’ board of directors. “That’s something that affects every kid. They can’t take baths. So it’s something very important.”

Along the area, heavy rains back up the area’s septic systems, Mike Martinez, who’s lived on Briana Circle for 10 years, told officials.

“Anytime there’s a rainfall, we are very limited in what we can do on a daily basis, from washing to showering,” he said.

Harlingen Waterworks System office is pictured Thursday, Nov. 3, 2022, in Harlingen. (Denise Cathey/The Brownsville Herald)

Since 2002, heavy rains have spurred back ups since Eliseo Perez Jr. moved into Briana Circle.

“We couldn’t flush, we couldn’t take showers because the water would go back up,” he told officials, describing conditions during Hurricane Dolly in 2008. “Any heavy rainstorm since Dolly, other homes have had problems with their septic tanks because of the lack of sewer lines in our neighborhood.”

Outside her home on Briana Circle, Lulu Andrade said she smells sewage.

“Every time I come out, there’s a smell — it’s not a pleasant smell,” she said. “I know it’s probably my neighbors, because I see the water coming out.”

As part of the $130 million sewer system overhaul, officials are planning to extend sewer lines in about 2028, Skoglund told residents.

“Within five years, it is a possibility, he said. “It may take a year or two longer. This is our best assessment in a relatively best-case scenario.”

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At Briana Circle, an area made up of about 25 homes, and Masters Streets, the site of about 44 homes, officials project it would cost $40,000 to $50,000 to connect each home to sewer lines, Skoglund told residents.

As part of the project, he proposed funding options that would help homeowners offset costs.

“This is the first step,” Commissioner Rene Perez, who oversees District 5’s west side, told residents. “We’re getting there. We’re giving you a time frame, more or less. It’s not something that’s immediately done because we’ve got these other steps.”

For decades, west side homeowners have complained past administrations annexed their land lacking sewer service.

“A lot of these problems pre-date,” Sepulveda said. “I wish that my neighborhood, that was annexed and is part of the city, were given sewer services, and we’re on septic.”

During his presentation, Skoglund said the project would launch with a $50 million plan to overhaul the city’s main sewer line known as the “Little Creek interceptor.”

“It is the heart and the core of what we’re trying to do with our sewer system,” he said. “It is the main pipeline through which most of the flow in our sewer system is conveyed to the wastewater treatment plant. This is a complete replacement, updating its capacity with greater depth. It is the core infrastructure which we need to build.”

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Harlingen residents complain of septic tank back-ups 2
A view of Harlingen’s WaterWorks System facility on Thursday, Sept. 14, 2023. (Miguel Roberts/The Brownsville Herald)

As part of the project, officials plan to stop sewage overflows which residential growth has sparked along the old sewer system, Skoglund said.

“There are sewer overflows that are going to happen, coming out of manholes into the streets, onto the ground — a very unsafe, unsanitary condition,” he said.

In some areas, pressurized lines are raising sewer water as high three feet from the surface, he said.

For years, Skoglund has been planning one of the city’s biggest projects including the construction of the main interceptor pipeline while building a deeper lift station and installing gravity lines to eliminate old lift stations.

To help fund the project, officials are requesting the Texas Water Development Board grant $24 million under the state’s Economically Distressed Areas Program.

While the Water Development Board granted WaterWorks a $10 million low-interest loan in September, the agency’s planning to apply for further funding, Skoglund said.

The post Harlingen residents complain of septic tank back-ups appeared first on MyRGV.com.

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