Mineral Wells Area News

Leaders of Area Water Entities Tour Failing Water Treatment Plant, Collectively Agree Establishing Regional Partnership Is Best for Future Infrastructure Development

Leaders of Area Water Entities Tour Failing Water Treatment Plant, Collectively Agree Establishing Regional Partnership Is Best for Future Infrastructure Development
December 13
11:05 2022

By Amy Bearden/Mineral Wells Area News

The Water Woes Facing Western Parker County and All of Palo Pinto County Have Never Been More Apparent and HD60 State Representative Glenn Rogers Is Ready to Take the Problem to Austin.

Local governing boards who buy water from the City of Mineral Wells for their respective communities were told on December 1 that their long-standing water contracts needed to be renegotiated because state regulators say the existing water treatment plant is inadequate to produce the obligated contractual needs.

The Hilltop Water Treatment Plant sits about 6 miles south of Mineral Wells directly off of Highway 281. It was built in 1962 along with the formation of the Palo Pinto County Municipal Water District #1 and the construction of Lake Palo Pinto. It currently supplies potable water to about 32,000 people throughout the area. Photo By Amy Bearden

The 60-year-old Hilltop Treatment Plant, which is owned by Palo Pinto Municipal Water District #1(PPMWD), purifies water out of Lake Palo Pinto, for the City of Mineral Wells, who also resells it to seven wholesale customers that include Millsap, North Rural, Palo Pinto Lake and Sturdivant Water Supply Corporations as well as Santo and Parker County Special Utility District and the City of Graford.

The plant, which was cited by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) back in October, supplies over 32,000 people in the area with potable water. The facility has seen it’s last leg, according to the crew of heroes that keep the plant operational.

Water Plant Employees seen above, don’t wear any capes, but maybe they should. They work tirelessly to make sure the water supply in the community is clean and safe for consumption. (Left to Right) John LaFrance, Joey McCann and Jeremy Fowler Photo By Amy Bearden

A recent tour of the facility by HD60 State Representative Glenn Rogers prompted him to organize another tour so he could show area water supply decision makers the archaic equipment first hand, and demonstrate the critical nature of the situation.

Roger’s secondary tour of the Hilltop facility, which is located about 6 miles South of Mineral Wells off of Highway 281, happened a week later and was led by Plant Supervisor Matt Henry.

Leaders spent over an hour at the sprawling, antiquated facility viewing the different equipment while listening to Henry explain the processes of the plant, as well as the challenges he and his team have experienced over the last twelve years.

“We get our water from Lake Palo Pinto. We have a control release valve and we release water from the lake out there and it goes 13 miles down a creek bed to our Brazos pump station. From there we pick it up and pipe it up here to the plant where it gets treated,” explained Henry.

He says the Brazos pump station is one of the biggest problems his staff faces.

“It’s 27 years old,” said Henry. “At 27 years of continual, running, it’s just worn out. You got your money out of it.”

Hilltop Plant Supervisor Matt Henry spent over an hour explaining the processes at the water treatment plant and discussing the challenges his staff constantly face Photo By Amy Bearden

Planning for a complete rehabilitation of the Brazos pump station will begin in January or February 2023 according to Henry. He says problem is it’s inability to pump raw water to the treatment plant.

The pump is not the only issue they face though.

There is also the problem of the three and a half miles of a 60-year-old pipeline that delivers the raw water to the plant from the pump station.

“It likes to blow out a little more than I like,” sighed Henry. “So it doesn’t matter how good your pump is when you have a leak anyway.”

It’s also expensive. The average repair to the pipeline costs $10,000 to $15,000 according to data provided at a recent Palo Pinto County Commissioner’s meeting.

Henry knows the daily challenges he and his staff face, referring to himself as the “boy with his finger in the dyke” and agrees a new facility is necessary.

“We’re gonna spend a lot of money, a whole lot of money, to fix something that’s just too old,” he said.

“Even if we could rehab this plant back to 100%, you’re only gonna get 12 million (gallons per day) out of it and that’s not gonna cut it down the road.”

“You’ve got your money out of it!”

Hilltop Water Treatment Plant Supervisor Matt Henry regarding making repairs to the existing system

Knowing just how much water will be needed in the future for a region that is experiencing major growth seems to be the magic question. Henry said he will leave the projections up to officials, but thinks a facility that could produce twenty to thirty million gallons per day would be enough.

HD60 Representative Glenn Rogers, seen third from the left in the above photo, invited area water supply leaders to visit the water treatment facility Photo By Amy Bearden

After the plant tour, Rogers invited the group for a sit down discussion at the County Annex, and tasked the group, “Where do we go from here? We have a great group of minds here and we have to come up with a solution for our water woes in the region,” claimed Rogers.

Officials present for the plant tour and subsequent discussion included Parker County Commissioners’ and their legal counsel, Parker County Special Utility District, representatives from the City of Mineral Wells, PPMWD #1, Brock, Peaster, and the Brazos River Authority(BRA), as well as several others.

The post-tour discussion at the Annex, led by Representative Rogers, opened a dialogue about finding solutions for future water infrastructure in Palo Pinto and Parker County. As the room bantered back and forth, many acknowledged there were resources with available funding to help, but indicated the people writing those checks need to know just how much money and how much water is needed.

Aware of the situation their water supplier was facing, Parker County Attorney John Forrest said a local committee began looking for alternative water sources, even speaking with the BRA, but quickly learned all of the available answers required a current “Needs Assessment Study.”

Seen here are leaking pumps responsible for moving water to the plant. Henry told tour goers that one of the pumps is so old, the nearest mechanic certified to work on it lives in Korea.

Forrest said the official request for that study would be placed on the Commissioner’s agenda for possible approval in two weeks time and could take anywhere from three months up to a year to complete.

“We’ve already gone in and interviewed engineers to form a study. The existing study on the books doesn’t explain the big picture of what’s actually happening in Parker County. And in Palo Pinto County for that matter,” said Forrest.

Most of the other entities in the room agreed they didn’t have access to accurate forecasted numbers either, which are almost always needed when applying for grants or State and Federal Funding.

“The things that we need to do require grant funding. We can’t live off of loans that have to be paid back. Some of the things that we’re talking about require grant funding. And so that’s the direction I think we need to be headed in. All of this begins with knowing how much we need,” said Larry Walden, Parker County Commissioner Precinct 3.

Jeff Neal, from the North Central Texas Council of Governments, (NCT-COG) told the room his organization is conducting studies for future planning to integrate water, wastewater, transportation and other infrastructure needs. He said he’s certain there is money available for the kind of projects this area is needing.

According to Neal, Bi-Partisan Infrastructure Legislation signed by President Biden in 2021 known as The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act(IAJA),is just one resource available for funding. The new bill is a comprehensive investment into American infrastructure, including water and electricity.

“We think there is a need to have a collective plan from a regional standpoint to address water and transportation together,” said Neal. “I know there are funds available and I think through an entity like the NCT-COG, we would be able to go after some of those grants to fulfill some of the projects mentioned in here.”

Representative Rogers brought up the idea of the individual entities in the room uniting as a regional water planning organization to have a bigger voice with the heavy funders of infrastructure. He asked Doug Stone, General Manager of the Upper Trinity Ground Water Conservation District, if unification into a bigger group could make a difference.

Hilltop Plant Supervisor Matt Henry leads a grounds tour of the water treatment facility Photo By Amy Bearden

“I think long term it’s going to take a regional solution,” remarked Stone. “You know, you look at the big regional water providers, and I know they get a lot of bad press and people gripe about them, but bottom line, they have water, right? Because, you know, they pulled together as a bigger entity,” remarked Stone.

Stone says his organization has worries about long term sustainability of the ground water in western Parker County and acknowledges the obvious need for additional water supplies in the area. He said a regional water planning district is a good idea and offered the room any help his organization could provide.

Commissioner Walden also agreed that uniting would help find a better long term solution.

“I’ll just bring this up, because nobody wants more government. Nobody! I don’t care who you are. None of us, not a person in here wants more government intervention into our lives. I’ll take a bet on that right now. However, I think our needs are not being met and only can be with something regional like you’re describing,” stated Walden.

“The tendency is to just forget about it and go on. And this is a problem that will not go away. It will not go away regardless what we did. Your area might be alright. You might have a plan for it. But as a region, this this is not going to go away because the growth is coming. And actually I guess to some degree, is being held back because of water issues,” continued Walden.

The existing water treatment plant’s inability to meet the demands of the longstanding contracts of its wholesale customers led local leadership from several municipalities to tour the facility Photo By Amy Bearden

Mineral Wells City Manager Dean Sullivan thinks a bigger voice is necessary for the larger funding sources.

“If we can pull all of our population resources together, they can’t ignore us and we’re not 10 individual entities, you know, trying to compete for that little dollar. We are a strong united front under some umbrella,” he said.

Sullivan continued, “If we were together under a reasonable deal, we definitely command some attention and they can’t ignore it because it’s not just one of our individual circumstances now.”

“It really boils down to the basic premise of our country. If you think individually, you will fall, right? But if we unite, right now, this is a good opportunity to unite on our water issues and our concerns in this very unique region of our state and our area,” continued Sullivan.

After much discussion, the consensus among the room was to look further into organizing collectively as a larger entity to create a regional water planning district with the help of State Representative Glenn Rogers in the next legislative session. City Manager Sullivan is hopeful legislators will agree to this regional water planning district idea in Austin. If not, he says there is another option of expanding the existing Palo Pinto Municipal Water District.

Water supply leaders met recently at the Palo Pinto County Annex to discuss future infrastructure planning in the area Photo By Amy Bearden

“It’s already legislatively created and it’s footprint could, if needed, be expanded,” offered Sullivan. “It can be done local and fairly easy. I asked counsel about it’s board composition and yes, it can be modified. I want more participation from the customers that we have so they would have a seat or seats at our table. And not just the people appointed by the Mineral Wells City Council.”

Area water supply leaders touring the Hilltop Water Treatment Plant South of Mineral Wells Photo By Amy Bearden

Howard Huffman, General Manager of PPWMD, mentioned the district’s decades long project known as the Turkey Peak Reservoir. It would significantly increase the area’s water supply if it comes to fruition, but after many, many years of planning, Huffman says a regional agreement is crucial for the completion of the project.

“I will not speak on behalf of the city. I’ve had discussions with my board about Turkey Peak. It is not going to happen without cooperation from other other entities, our neighbors. We have fought this battle to this point where we’re we’re close to putting bulldozers on the ground but that last push is going to take help from other people and other taxing areas. Other sources of money,” said Huffman.

“Citizens cannot pay for this type of infrastructure out of their pocket. We need help from government, whether it be state or federal,” exclaimed Huffman.

Concrete tanks hold water at the plant as it’s being treated at the Hilltop facility. The white streaks seen in the walls above are leaks that have calcified It’s that calcification that also left caused sever problems in the raw water delivery pipeline Photo By Amy Bearden

Rogers is hopeful water will be a hot topic in Austin come January, but he’s not sitting around waiting for lawmakers to reconvene next year to tackle this local issue. He will meet later this month with a former legislator, turned rural water lobbyist, as well as a current legislator who has experience with setting up regional water districts. He invited everyone in the room to that next meeting, which is slated for December 21.

“We’re about to go back into the legislative session and as you know, we have a surplus. The majority of that will go to draw down property taxes, but there is going to be some money available. There’s a pretty big push to have an emphasis on water. I just joined the Texas Water Caucus, which is in the Texas legislature. Those of us in there really have a deep interest in water and I’m hoping that we’re going to be able to put some money from that surplus into the water. I don’t know anything more important,” said the local legislator.

Mineral Wells Area News will continue to follow this very important story and update the community as more information becomes available. Please make sure you are supporting our nonprofit digital newspaper as we continue to bring you the stories you need to hear. Please donate to MWAN and support local journalism. All donations will be doubled by NewsMatch through the end of 2022. Now is the time to show your support!

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Amy Bearden
Amy Bearden

Amy Bearden is the Publisher/Editor of Mineral Wells Area News and loves celebrating her favorite town by telling the stories of the people in the community. Amy has a passion for local sports, news and business development. She spent 10 years marketing a professional sports team and is now focused on growing the cultural wellness and creative arts space throughout the area. Amy has four kids, two dogs and a garden she cherishes, along with her yoga mat.

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