Thank you, Senator Hinojosa, for filing this bill. This infrastructure will take South Texas water infrastructure to the 21st Century. And it will economically benefit the residents of South Texas.
McAllen Public Utility provides top tier water service to McAllen residents at one of the most competitive rates in the state. Unfortunately, many ratepayers and residents are adversely affected by the outdated framework of water rights in the Rio Grande Valley. As you may know, the Rio Grande Valley is one of the fastest growing areas of Texas. What was once known as an agriculture corridor, famous for Ruby Red grapefruits and Valley lemons, is now a developed metropolitan area with a strong urban core.
Hidalgo County Water Improvement District No. 3 was created in 1921 to provide water for mostly agricultural lands. Today, District 3’s once agricultural territory is in the heart of McAllen’s urban core. In fact, as said in a state audit in 2012, 90 percent of District 3’s revenue is from us, McAllen Public Utility, which uses the water for municipal purposes.
And 92 percent of the raw water delivered by the district is to the City of McAllen. For this raw water, untreated, we, the McAllen Public Utility are forced to pay District 3 a rate of 29 cents per 1,000 gallons, a staggering rate that is 80 percent more expensive than the city’s other water sources. Further, as you can see from the diagram, from the map, only a handful of farmers and residential lots continue to use the district’s raw water for irrigation.
On top of these exorbitant rates, where the water district charges the McAllen Public Utility for its raw untreated water, the district also charges excessive crossing fees that significantly hinder economic growth and development of McAllen’s urban core.
Each time a new development or improvement must cross the district’s lines, the district charges a crossing fee of $500 per inch of diameter of the crossing pipe. Plus an application fee of $750. For example, a 24-inch storm sewer line incurs a crossing fee of $12,750. This is just one example. Every pipe that crosses a District 3 easement is subject these fees, whether installed by McAllen Public Utility, the City of McAllen, a private developer or even other public utilities, such as gas companies or telecommunications providers. The net result is development is forced to pay needless fees and think twice about how and where they are able and willing to locate.
The McAllen Public Utility and City of McAllen stand ready and able to provide water throughout the district’s territory. The utility is frequently audited by the Texas Water Development Board and rating agencies and works hard to earn and maintain its Double A-plus bond rating.
Lastly, the McAllen Public Utility board of trustees is elected by the public. Any decisions made by the McAllen Public Utility board will be scrutinized by the public. Unlike the district, the McAllen Public Utility board of trustees answer directly to the residents they serve, making accountability a paramount priority.
We are confident that this bill will eliminate (Hidalgo County Water Improvement District No. 3) thereby improving efficiency and eliminating government waste. The bill will undoubtedly make an incredible, positive, impact on the citizens of South Texas.
Thank you chairman Bettancourt, members for you time. Please vote in favor of Senate Bill 2185.
Editor’s Note: The above testimony was given by Marco Antonio Vega, general manager of McAllen Public Utility, in support of Senate Bill 2185 at a hearing of the state Senate Committee on Local Government on Monday, April 12, 2021. SB 2185, authored by state Sen. Juan Hinojosa, would would dissolve Hidalgo County Water Improvement District No. 3 and transfer its assets and liabilities to the City of McAllen. Vega was the one resident of the Rio Grande Valley that spoke in favor of the bill.
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