Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Study Butte Water System

This is an interesting news article about Study Butte's water system. Study Butte is about 35 miles south of Terlingua Ranch.

Study Butte providing good, clean water

By Linda Bailey Potter / Staff Writer
If there's one thing everyone can agree on, a trip to
South Brewster County will make you thirsty. The hot,
dry climate is a testament that water is in limited
supply. In fact, for years, all you could see were the
crumbling ruins of a long past mining community with
little new development. "You don't want to buy land
here because there isn't any water," they would say.

Well, the "theys" are now eating their words with
recent news of aquifers that possibly run underground
across the entire breadth of South County, and a new
water plant, the Study Butte Water Supply Corp.
(SBWSC), which is providing drinking water to 103
customers through 21 miles of pipelines, serving a
population of about 700 people.

"The taste of our water is excellent," said David
Fricker, president of SBWSC.

SBWSC was created to care for existing property owners
who do not have access to running water. Without a
water system in the Study Butte/Terlingua area, there
were few water source options. Some were hauling water
in jars to the house, and trucks were used to fill
water tanks. Another option was to connect to a small
water supplier's system, though unregulated by the
Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ)
because they serve less than 15 customers. Others had
their own well and still others had water catchment
systems whereby water is collected from the roof.

A group of residents saw the need for a water supply
company and met in 1988, not knowing what they were
getting themselves into with grant applications and
decisions about the type of water plant needed and who
to serve.

Somehow, it all worked out, but not without a lot of
growing pains. They received three grants and a loan
from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural
Development Program. Funds for the plant were provided
by a USDA colonias grant earmarked for communities
within 25 miles of the border and which lack basic
services for their homes. SBWSC is about eight miles
"as the crow flies" from the border.

They received a permit from the TCEQ for a certificate
of convenience and necessity in a 350-acre area that
covers most of the population in the community. "The
people in charge of the company at the time had no
idea as to the regulations. They had to hire a
consulting engineer," said Phillip Smith, operations

The water plant is a reverse osmosis desalination
process that sits on five acres. The well is about 100
ft. from the plant with a 122,000 gal. water tank.
They also have 20 acres where they pump their
wastewater by pipeline.

They drilled one well, which is about 1,000 ft. deep,
and started pumping water on March 26, 1999. On Jan.
25, 2003, the water pump on the well failed after only
46 months of operation. The cause was blamed on iron
pipes, which should have been stainless steel, which
rusted from 112 degrees of water that was pumped
through the well. Another cause was poor engineering
design. On top of that, when they tried to get the
well motor out, it dropped to the bottom of the well
and they were faced with the reality that their
customers were going to be without water.

A call for help went out to Brewster County Judge Val
Beard, who helped get TxDOT involved. With tankers
that could haul potable water, Big Bend National Park
provided 66,000 gallons of water from their water
system and Lajitas Resort provided 470,000 gallons,
all in a 17-day period, while the pump and pipes were
being replaced. "In all that time not one water user
experienced a dry faucet," said Fricker. BBNP and
Lajitas did not charge them for the water.

SBWSC now has a second well and is ready to accept
bids on a project to build eight to nine miles of new
pipelines, which will double the number of water
meters, bringing in an estimated 59 percent more
revenue. "It will give us some breathing room," said

They are also getting high-tech equip for the wells
with a submersible pressure transducer, which is
placed deep into the well and will feed data directly
into their computer.

They pump an average of 30,000 gal. of treated water
every day. "The well level returns to level before we
turn on the pump. We barely notice any change, even
before we've had rain," said Smith of the effect of
unusual rains this year on well water levels.

However, everything isn't rosy just yet. They are
barely breaking even on operations. A reserve fund for
future problems is slowly accumulating but there are
current infrastructure problems that are pressing.
Their maintenance vehicle is a four-wheel Yamaha.
"It's the only transportation that we have," said
Smith. They also need to replace substandard pipelines
and make further improvements to the distribution

SBWSC went before the Brewster County Commissioners
Court last month for help with an Office of Rural
Community Affairs (ORCA) grant, which is now in the
works for next year.

In the meantime, their water pump is working just fine
and they are still providing water by the gallon to
those who need it, especially during the chili
cook-off, limited to 25 gallons per month at one cent
a gallon per person. Their grants require that they
charge for all water services, otherwise they would
give the water out free, said Fricker.

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