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TCEQ demands response; residents left dry since early August
The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) has issued a demand letter to the owner and manager of Derby Ing, Dario Guerra, after residents in the small roadside community have been without potable water for nearly two months.
On August 7, the day after the only water source to the community failed, Guerra contacted TCEQ to inform the entity of the community’s complete water outage.
Two days later, county commissioners held a meeting to approve purchasing 75,000 gallons of potable water that would be delivered to the residents. Private companies, community-groups, the city of Pearsall and commissioners all provided bottled water donations to the residents.
“Frio County can and should contribute more to help the residents of Derby,” Pct. 4 Comm. Jose Asuncion said in a phone interview Monday morning. “The operator was awarded $394,000 since 2012 in loan forgiveness that has been largely unused. I know each of the commissioners have seen some success in pressuring state agencies to help force the owner to repair the water system, as well as find a new operator to take over the utility.”
According to Asuncion, in the immediate term, commissioners are only able to take action as a county every two weeks unless the county judge, who serves as the emergency management director and head of commissioners’ court, calls a meeting sooner.
“During this meeting, TCEQ staff provided verbal instruction to you to take immediate action to resolve the outage at the system and you indicated that you were working on restoring water service,” the letter from TCEQ Deputy Director Cari-Michel La Caille said.
Guerra met with La Caille, representatives from the Public Utility Commission of Texas and Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) on August 29.
According to the letter from TCEQ, numerous investigations of the water system have been conducted and five default orders documenting deficiencies that require corrective actions have been issued since 2012. Guerra has entered four agreed orders that would bring the water system into compliance with state regulations; TCEQ has attempted to aid the water system through TCEQ small business and local government assistance and the financial managerial and technical assistance programs.
“The frequency and duration of noncompliance at your system is unacceptable and not consistent with your legal obligation,” the letter reads.
Deficiencies include failure to ensure the public water system is operated by a trained and licensed waterworks operator; failure to provide required well capacity; failure to record the amount of water produced from the well each week; and failure to provide a drought contingency plan.
“By this letter, TCEQ is demanding that you, the responsible party, take immediate action to address the system’s deficiencies,” the letter reads. “This includes restoring water service to the customers by and replacing any pumps or other equipment needed to provide water service, and timely rehabilitating the tank and distribution system prior to rescinding the ‘Do not consume’ order.”
Guerra’s failure to repair the well could result in additional enforcement action and referral to the Office of the Attorney General to pursue a cause of action against him for the ongoing water outages.
The TWDB issued a letter to Guerra on August 29, 2022, confirming conditional support to use a portion of Derby Ing’s existing Drinking Water State Revolving Fund (DWSRF) principal forgiveness funding to address the pump failure.
Guerra requested funding from the development board in 2012 and was awarded $394,000 in loan forgiveness from the DWSRF. The original project was the construction of well components to address TCEQ violations and provide for planning for a secondary groundwater source.
“To date, no significant components of the original project have been completed,” Dain Larsen, team manager for the central region, wrote in the letter.
This August, Guerra asked for $18,000 in an emergency authorization for work that would include replacing the existing 35 gallon-per-minute pump with a 50 gallon-per-minute pump. The pump would also be lowered 110 feet to a new depth of 750 feet below the top of the casing.
During an August 29 commissioners’ court meeting, Guerra told the court funding was approved and the work would begin in 11 days.
The work has not begun.
“Regarding the use of remaining funds after the emergency work has been completed, due to the lack of progress on addressing the need of the original project, TWDB staff will be reviewing the terms of the current principal forgiveness agreements and the use of any remaining DWSRF funds,” the letter reads.
Pct. 3 Comm. Raul Carrizales said the county was able to provide some assistance to the residents since an emergency declaration was issued on August 6 by the county judge.
“The last update we were given was the state would be stepping in and a new facility operator would be on the ground soon,” the commissioner said. “TCEQ agrees with commissioners; this is a dire situation for the residents of Derby.”
Guerra was slated to respond to the TCEQ demand letter by Tuesday, September 20.