Marble Falls, Burnet, Kingsland, Llano, Spicewood, Horseshoe Bay, and ALL of the Highland Lakes
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Channel Oaks Property Owners Association President Jerry Cavitt at a neighborhood meeting Tuesday, Feb. 21, to discuss options for residents to consider as the unincorporated subdivision struggles with an ongoing water crisis. Staff photo by Nathan Bush
Channel Oaks property owners might have to collectively pay the city of Marble Falls to extend water lines into the subdivision on FM 2147 to solve the neighborhood’s ongoing water crisis. That and other options were discussed during a neighborhood meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 21, at First United Methodist Church in Marble Falls. About 40 people attended.
“We need a constant reliable water source,” said Channel Oaks Property Owners Association President Jerry Cavitt at the meeting. “The city of Marble Falls is the closest, best, least expensive, most reliable option.”
Channel Oaks residents were issued a boil water notice in December following a pump malfunction. Shortly after the repair, a separate leak forced the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to issue an indefinite boil water notice for 38 water taps in Channel Oaks II.
The Tuesday meeting was triggered by ongoing concerns about the safety of the subdivision’s water supply after the owner of the water system, Mary Maxey, failed to pay water operator Professional General Management Services for several months. As a result, PGMS resigned from managing the neighborhood’s water in January.
Residents say the system, which was built in 1967, is outdated and in dire need of repairs. Busted pipes issue brown water, and the pressure is unstable.
“The infrastructure is very old,” Cavitt said. “If you look at it wrong or pump up the pressure a little too much, it pops leaks. I think most have seen the gray pipe. If you just hit it with a shovel, it pops, and you have a problem. It’s not the schedule-40 PVC everybody is used to seeing at Home Depot. This is pretty brittle stuff.”
While Maxey has attempted to find a buyer, residents fear the subdivision’s depleted system has chased away prospects.
“You can’t compel a for-profit operator to come take this loser,” Cavitt said.
One option presented to residents is to pay the city of Marble Falls a rough estimate of $400,000 to extend its water lines into the unincorporated subdivision. The cost would be shared among the 82 lot owners in the subdivision’s three POAs: Channel Oaks, Channel Oaks I, and Channel Oaks II.
“That would solve the first issue: We have a new source of water,” Cavitt said. “The city of Marble Falls is a viable option if there’s enough money to get it connected.”
Marble Falls is the obvious choice of nearby cities to come to Channel Oaks’ rescue, Mayor Richard Westerman told DailyTrib.com. Two other options are Cottonwood Shores or Horseshoe Bay, both of which would have to build extensions to reach the hillside subdivision.
“We are substantially the largest utility, and we surround them on three sides,” Westerman said. “Our capacity is large enough where we could handle it, if we had to. We would be the logical choice if it came down to TCEQ forcing another utility to take over that system.”
However, Marble Falls is hesitant to take on the responsibility, the mayor continued.
“We would like to avoid that at all costs,” he said. “That being said, TCEQ has the authority, much like a city does for eminent domain, to make things happen.”
Other options mentioned during the meeting are installing rainwater-catching systems or buying the water system outright. One resident called for a show of hands from those interested in purchasing the water system, which could cost anywhere from $1.5 million to $3 million collectively. Not a single hand went up.
Another route presented is to form a nonprofit water management system through a neighborhood collective. The nonprofit status would allow residents to apply for grants to upgrade the system.
“If it’s a for-profit system, there are no grants available,” resident Seth Martin said. “I guarantee you, if someone gets creative and researches grants, there will be grants that solve this whole problem.”
Residents also discussed pursuing potential litigation against Maxey for mishandling the subdivision’s water, though property owners were cautious to move forward with the idea because of the cost and length of legal battles.
“You cannot force anyone to write a check in this country without going to the courts,” Cavitt said. “That may be what ends up happening, but that’s not going to solve our water problem in the next few weeks, months, or even years.”
To end the meeting, Cindy Smiley, an Austin-based water law attorney, spoke on the property owners’ rights and provided information on ways to swiftly solve the issue.
“You have the poster child case for what shouldn’t be happening,” she said.
Smiley recommended residents write, email, and call state agencies such as the TCEQ and the Public Utility Commission of Texas along with legislators to apply pressure to state officials to act quickly.
“(Legislators) are tuned into issues like critical infrastructure that is aged, outdated, and fragile,” she said. “That is really on the minds of the (Texas) Legislature right now.”