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Water wells across South Texas have begun to run dry at the height of an ongoing extreme drought and with continuous daytime temperatures in triple digits.
One such well supplies the tiny highwayside community of Derby, halfway between Pearsall and Dilley. The water shortage reached a critical point this week, and county commissioners voted Tuesday, August 9, to dispatch 75,000 gallons over the next two weeks as a stop-gap emergency supply. They have also tasked 911 Emergency Coordinator Ray Kallio to organize water transportation and communication with the residents during the crisis. His budget has been set at $15,000.
Frio County Judge Arnulfo Luna signed a declaration of local state disaster Saturday, Aug. 6, when the township experienced a failure of the only pump that delivers potable water to over 70 households.
The emergency is not the first time the families of Derby have been without drinking water due to on-going ownership issues left by the dissolution of the Derby Water Supply Corporation.
“For the past three months TCEQ has been looking for someone to purchase the property,” Dario Guerra said during a commissioners’ court meeting on Monday. “They went to local people and asked if they wanted to purchase; they tried to reach the city of Dilley and got no response at all. Those are the people who are the closest and easiest to take over the system”
According to Guerra, who is the operator, the system is being sued by the county for back taxes.
“In the suit I am listed as the operator and A. Gonzales is listed as property owner because Mr. Roberts, who was president of the corporation, would not do a quick claim deed,” Guerra said. “I hope someone buys it because they will be responsible for supplying water.”
According to the Texas Water Development Board, 60 percent of water used in the state comes from groundwater systems. As drought conditions to worsen across the state, landowners and cities have been forced to drop the level of their wells to meet demand. Guerra said the level is at 1,700 feet and the pump has been lowered to 600 feet.
“I think everyone needs to be realistic; this may not be a two-week issue,” Frio County Engineer Roxana Garcia said. “There is a real threat this could be a long-term issue. All over the county, we have people going dry and having no water in their wells. They are dry; no water on their property.”
Pct. 1 Commissioner Joe Vela asked Guerra about his plans to help the citizens.
“What are you going do about getting water for the people of Derby,” the commissioner said. “They cannot be without water for two weeks.”
Guerra said that the citizens need to rally together and figure it out.
“Basically the water is going to be ‘Do not consume’,” he said. “You can use it to flush toilets and take a shower, but you cannot use it to cook.”
Guerra claims to have contacted eight water well companies but said they all claimed to be busy and it could be up to two weeks before the problem is fixed.
Derby resident Sylvia San Miguel expressed her frustration with the water situation and demanded Guerra provide answers.
“The people there are going to have to band together to pay for some water or get some water delivered,” Guerra said. “The last time this happened, it cost me $30,000 to fix it.”
“So basically we are on our own,” San Miguel said.
Frio County Attorney Joseph Sindon said Derby formed a water supply corporation that had a board of directors who made all the decisions.
“Then what happened was at some point they dissolved that board and then they all passed away, so that board is no longer able to make that decision to pass that water well to the entity that Mr. Guerra has created,” Sindon said. “I did explain to Mr. Guerra that if he talked to a private attorney there would be a way to remedy this but to my knowledge that has not happened. Frio County is not the owner of the water well.”
There were 28 original families who started the corporation.
“We got the commissioners here, Chemo [Ornelas] here, the engineer here; what can we do to get the water?” Comm. Vela asked. “I mean, I can get the water, but who is going to haul it? They need the water. Everyone is here, so we have to try and help Derby water.”
Records show Pct. 4 Comm. Jose Asuncion made contact with Texas Division of Emergency Management [TDEM] on Saturday after he was notified about the issue that afternoon. By Sunday, Comm. Vela personally paid for 10,000 gallons of non-potable water and Comm. Carrizales paid for half a pallet of bottled water to be delivered to the residents of Derby.
The court learned on Monday that the city of Pearsall has donated 150 cases of water and, according to the judge, four pallets of water are expected to be delivered by the end of the week from the food bank and TDEM.
“But again, I understand the water needs to be where you all can use the showers and that I do not know where it is going to come from,” Judge Luna said.
Garcia said two water trucks owned by the county are used for road and highway transportation, so they are not sanitized and would not be suitable to transfer potable water to Derby.
“The residents of Derby have no water,” Comm. Asuncion said. “The conditions are extremely hot; there is still COVID out there. In fact you, [Judge Luna] declared a disaster, with which I agree. Short term, I do not think they are asking for much. Because of the declaration, the judge has exceptional authority. All they are asking for is a tank of fresh water to fill their barrels. For the medium term, two weeks, we need to communicate with the public so they can start making accommodations. I would ask for an emergency meeting to approve whatever funds, because I think we could relate this to COVID and use ARPA [American Rescue Plan Act]. I think that is the urgency we need to move with.”