Update on utility infrastructure improvements underway in Natalia

Dear Natalia Residents and Businesses,
The City of Natalia has been undergoing several construction projects, some initiated by the City, others caused by other public utilities such as gas, internet and electricity not within our control. And though these are all great assets to your community, they’re also irritating; we understand your frustration, but these improvements are for the betterment of your welfare now and in the future. We couldn’t thank you enough for being patient with us, and release to you that these projects are about coming to an end. For an insight of what led us here is a little background of how and when improvements were considered and the status of the projects today.
The City of Natalia utility improvement projects to our water and wastewater systems was initiated back in March 2015 by Natalia City Council (Mayor Ruby Vera, Mayor Pro-Tem Sam Smith, and Aldermen Mike Fernandez, Samuel Bluemel and Ruben Juarez) along with Staff members (City Administrator Lisa Hernandez and Public Works Director Art Smith). An executive review of the city’s asset inventory was conducted, and the state of its condition was an extreme concern. City Council understood the importance of providing adequate, dependable quality of water and wastewater services to our community, and authorized administration to seek funding sources to support necessary infrastructure improvements.
Administration, with City Council consent, determined that affordable aid programs offered through USDA Rural Development would be in the best interest of the city, but, before the City could consider filing an application for federal aid to make necessary utility improvements, USDA-RD required several studies of the city’s current operational conditions, financial statements, project priorities and improvement costs to be reviewed. Additionally, USDA-RD required the City to conduct a study of its affordability of debt, and its approaches for repayment of issued debt prior to accepting an application for federal aid. To provide these studies, the City was granted Special Evaluation Assistance for Rural Communities and Households (SEARCH) funds of $60,000 to conduct a Utility Rate Study steered by Communities Unlimited Management Specialists, and a Preliminary Engineering Study completed by M&S Engineering.
By April 2016, the completed studies were accepted which approved the City to proceed with filing an application for federal funds. Mayor Manuel Saldana and City Administrator Hernandez filed an application and issued public notice of the City’s intent to apply for USDA Rural Development, Rural Utility Federal Funds, for water and wastewater system improvements. By November 2016 USDA approved the City of Natalia for federal funding assistance for utility specific improvements; acceptance of the award notice and Letter of Conditions was signed by Mayor Manuel Saldana.
The current total costs for both water and wastewater improvement projects are $2,435,096. The water and wastewater project costs are supported through a combination of funding sources; a 40-year low interest rate federal loan, agency grant funds, and utility fund contributions. The repayment of the federal loan is supported by Combination Tax and Subordinate Lien Revenue Certificate of Obligations, and consumer utility revenue fees.
The projects considered were based on priority and necessity, and were deemed to be in the best interest of the public’s health, safety and welfare, and protection of the city’s infrastructure, while also considering cost savings and effectiveness of a renewed utility system and its facilities. Following USDA’s competitive bidding and procurement process, three contractors were selected to make improvements to our infrastructure of which the initial notice to proceed with construction was given June 28, 2019.
Upgrades to the Oldest Portion of the Water Distribution System: Areas of the City (approximately 10,000 feet of main, or 25% of the distribution system) were identified as having old galvanized lines and frequent water main breaks and leaks. Replacement of these mains with new PVC lines reduces breaks and leaks, ultimately decreasing the amount of water that is pumped and lost in the system. The project will also install system-valving to allow the city to isolate various lines without causing complete water service interruption to the entire city. Older hydrants will also be replaced and spaced adequately to provide residents with improved water flow within a reasonable distance from any structure. This project is about 90% complete; construction crews were able to connect the new water distribution system in portions of the area without causing complete interruption, approximately two tie-in’s were performed. However, tying-in other areas of the new system to our current system is not that easy, and the City will have to cause complete interruption of water service that may take a few hours to complete the transfer. Initial plans for this interruption was determined to take place during a school holiday or overnight. At this time, the switch-over is highly considered to take place during Spring Break, week of March 9-13, 2020, as to not interfere with school operations. Once samples are confirmed, the City will release an I-Info message communicating actual date to prepare residents and businesses for this interruption.
Well Site Upgrades: This project improves the performance and reliability of the city’s two existing raw water well sites (Well #4 and Well #6)which included a video inspection of the well-lines to thoroughly examine the condition of the existing pipeline. Results caused for repair or replacement of the existing well pumps, control valves, column pipe, collars, shafts, bearings, spiders, airline, and shaft turbine pumps. Work also included adding standby power at the primary well site in the form of a diesel generator with an associated automatic transfer switch, and installation of new flow meters at both sites compatible with the SCADA system to ensure the wells will continue to provide a reliable water source into the city that can be easily monitored and controlled remotely during periods of power outage. In order to continue pumping water into the city improvements were done one well at a time, and prior to reactivating each well operations, three consecutive water samples must be of good quality drinking water level. This project is about complete, the only pending items are Well #4 water samples and the generator startup, and we’re hoping to close this project by end of March 2020.
Redirect the Love’s Lift Station flow through New Pipeline to WWTP: The new sewer pipeline project required the installation of new pumps at the Love’s Lift Station, adequately sized for the discharge of approximately 6,400 feet of new sewer pipeline along FM 6717into the wet well pump station at the wastewater treatment plant. This project would also include curbing around the lift station to keep surface storm water inflow from entering the wet well; helping to reduce flow spikes at the treatment plant during major rain events. The primary purpose for this project is to reduce wastewater flows by removing unnecessary stress from entering the other lift station, known as the Ballfield Lift Station, and to add system flexibility by establishing a second primary conveyance to the wastewater treatment plant as well as a collector for any new development along the I-35 corridor. There are a few electric and flow components to address, but do expect this project to be complete within the next few months.
Replace the Utility Crossing of Fort Ewell Creek: The condition of the aerial gravity sewer crossing at Fort Ewell Creek was of high concern, as there were signs of erosion around the pipelines supportive base and being directly located in the flow line of the creek. A failure of this pipeline could have resulted in a discharge of untreated wastewater into the Creek, and the environmental effects of this concern could impact both flora and fauna habitats. This project constructed a new crossing with supports located out of the primary flow line of the creek and within enough depth to ensure erosion is not an issue. The new sewer main was installed, complete, and active.
Reduction of Non-Wastewater Treatment at WWTP: The City’s wastewater treatment plant often experienced high flow spikes, at times exceeding the permitted discharge flow allowance especially during periods of heavy rain. It is believed that these flow spikes are due to inflow and infiltration into the gravity collection system, and by replacing aged wastewater gravity mains reduces infiltration of ground water into the system. Similarly, rehabbing or replacing manholes showing signs of deterioration also helped reduce both groundwater infiltration and storm water inflow. The completion of this project ran in three quick phases: 1) inspection of selected gravity sewer lines and manholes to determine condition; 2) cleaned and jetted lines; and finally, 3) sleeves were installed in sewer lines and repair of manholes was conducted. The selected area was based on the frequency of leaks, breaks, and repairs for both the water mains and gravity sewers. The new sewer service line system is complete and actively operating.
Minor Repairs at the Ballfield Lift Station: During an onsite visual inspection of the Ballfield Lift Station, the station was found to be in good condition overall with all major components in working order. However, one item in need of immediate attention was the wall brackets that secured the stainless steel pump rails in place. These brackets were heavily corroded and needed to be replaced. While the work may be relatively minor, the impact of these brackets failing would be the inability to pull pumps for servicing and would’ve created a greater expense if damage to the pump rails was to happen. The existing brackets were replaced with stainless steel brackets to ensure the longevity of the repair; installation is complete and operating.
Emergency Interconnect with East Medina Special Utility District: An interconnect agreement with East Medina Special Utility District allows for a temporary water source in the event of a major failure or unexpected repairs at the city’s water well sites. This construction will take place within the utility easement at FM463 and CR6715 and shouldn’t cause any interruption to either utility system during construction. The benefit of having this interconnect positively serves both entities a reliable water source should either water system be down for an extended period of time. This project is undergoing construction at this time, and expected to be complete within the next few weeks.
City Council meets every Third Monday of each month at 7pm at City Hall Chambers, 2078 State Hwy 132 N., Natalia, TX 78059. Agendas are posted at least 72-hours before any scheduled city council meeting on the bulletin board, and website: www.cityofnatalia.com.
We Thank You for your Patience!
Your City of Natalia Community Leaders: Mayor Tommy Ortiz, Mayor Pro-Tem Sam Smith, Alderman Mike Fernandez, Alderman Sam Bluemel, Alderman Darin Frazier, and Alderwoman Selica Vera
Respectfully written by Lisa Hernandez, City Administrator/Secretary, February 28, 2020