Editor’s Note: In this special feature by reporter Joey Gomez, North Alamo Water Supply Corporation reflects on its nearly 50-year journey, assisting cities and the rural areas of the Rio Grande Valley
EDINBURG, RGV – Originally starting out in the late 1960s as a resource to the farming communities of the Rio Grande Valley, North Alamo Water Supply Corporation has become the largest water supply corporation in Texas, according to its leaders.
Based in Edinburg but spanning three counties including the eastern half of Hidalgo, all of Willacy and the western side of Cameron, North Alamo counts more than 42,000 connection lines, and more than 3,500 miles of pipe across the region.
“What makes us very unique is we serve the rural areas,” said North Alamo WSC General Manager Steven P. Sanchez. “Our members are very scattered, and the infrastructure is paid through USDA grants and loans the company gets. There is no tax money involved. None of these residents are taxed.”
Differing from municipalities, Special Utility Districts (SUDs) or Investor Owned Utilities (IOUs), North Alamo WSC is a non-profit organization operating out of a Certificate of Convenience and Necessity (CCN) filed with the state’s Public Utilities Commission.
The CCN designates the portions of land owned by the WSC, which it may then release to the surrounding communities of the Valley.
“It’s like HEB and Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart has its boundaries, so what’s to stop HEB from taking over their areas? Well, it’s through the laws of the State of Texas and properties. It’s the same thing with North Alamo. We own this area. We own the CCN,” Sanchez said. “Now, when a city works with us, we sit down and negotiate with them to release a certain area. We work out a deal, and that has worked out very well here.”
The WSC is comprised of seven surface water production plants and five wastewater treatment plans, and is projecting $40 million in projects to be completed over the next 20 years including pipes, plant expansions, reverse osmosis plants and the purchase of additional water rights.
Wastewater plants are located in Monte Alto, Lasara, San Carlos, San Juan, Edinburg and a future plant in Donna. This plant will be a one-half million gallons a day treatment facility in northwest Donna.
North Alamo has been approved for a $9.1 million grant, and a $600,000 loan to complete the Donna facility. The corporation has one more proposed facility planned in northeast Weslaco, and has already set aside $1.3 million for planning, acquisition and design, Sanchez said.
The WSC also includes seven surface water production plants, the largest of which is located north of Donna on Victoria Road and Mile 11, capable of producing 10 million gallons of treated water a day.
North Alamo produces about 25 million gallons of treated surface water a day, including 10 million gallons from brackish ground water that travels through the plants’ reverse osmosis system, for a total of 35 million gallons daily.
“We started primarily serving the rural communities, the farming communities. As the Valley grew, and subdivisions started coming in, some people would call them colonias, we were there to provide safe drinking water for them,” Sanchez said. “As that grew, the city started to continue to incorporate out into those areas. There are some areas where we have negotiated work through MOUs, and released our areas to some of the cities, but not with others.”
North Alamo draws their water from two primary sources, the Rio Grande River and brackish ground water, which is then put through a reverse osmosis process to remove the salt content. Once the salts have been removed, water is then treated with chemicals or blended with well water to stabilize it and reduce “hardness.”
With Rio Grande-derived water, the WSC has to purchase the water rights, which is currently running at about $2,500 per acre. An acre of water is a foot deep, and roughly 325,000 gallons. North Alamo currently owns between 10,000 to 11,000 acres of water.
On average, customers with North Alamo pay $16 a month for water, for a total of 3,000 gallons. After customers hit that benchmark, it’s $1.50 for every 1,000 gallons.
“As the Rio Grande is probably the only water we have for surface, it’s also very hard water,” Sanchez said. “The salts in that are 700 or 800 parts, so we bring in that low PH water from the reverse osmosis (plants) and blend it. It stabilizes the water for us without us having to spend the money to do that. We charge a customer a water supply fee to get water from river or mine the brackish ground water because to build the facilities, the RO plants are very expensive.”
“Water is becoming very important to everybody because of drought, because of Mexico, the international laws and conflicts we have,” Sanchez said. “What I do want your readers to know is that North Alamo is doing everything in its power to make sure that they receive safe drinking water for their homes, and out in the rural areas.
“We will continue to do that by building new plants or larger pipelines to deliver good pressure and good flows, meeting our state criteria, and more than $40 million in projects over the next 20 years,” he said.