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What would it take to fix Granite Shoals’ water system?

The city of Granite Shoals water tower went up in 2022, part of a list of upgrades to its water system. File photo

Granite Shoals has a water problem. Leaders have acknowledged the shortcomings of the city’s water system, offered short-term solutions, and explained the long-term planning necessary to make big fixes. Millions of dollars in upgrades have already been made, but major improvements are needed and the money is not easy to come by.

“I’m here tonight to bring attention to the quality of our city’s water and ask that it be addressed,” said resident Micah Rate during the public comment portion of the Granite Shoals City Council meeting on May 28. “Like many residents, my family’s water has been yellow or green with black specks for weeks.”

Rate said his water had been discolored since at least April 22, two weeks before a major line break forced a temporary shutdown of the city’s pumps. The discoloration reportedly got worse after the shutdown, but it did clear up after city utility crews flushed the lines near his home.

Rate voiced his appreciation for the utility workers but noted the inconsistency of the city’s water quality is consistently concerning.

“My comments this evening are not to cast blame, accuse people of not doing their jobs, or accuse our city’s workers of not working hard,” he told the council. “I’m here to highlight this issue, speak up for my family and fellow residents, and ask for your help in solving it.”

Granite Shoals resident Micah Rate asks for action and answers from the City Council on what he calls an inconsistent water system. Staff photo by Dakota Morrissiey

Rate also asked the council if it would stop using money for the water system to balance the general fund. In the 2023-24 fiscal year budget, $1.2 million in revenue was transferred from the utility fund to the general fund. If that money had not been redirected, it theoretically could have been used to make serious improvements to the water system.

Granite Shoals’ current budget is dependent upon the transfer of funds from utility to general, City Manager Sarah Novo told DailyTrib.com. For example, the city had roughly $6.28 million in expenditures in fiscal year 2023-24 but only brought in $5.1 million in revenue from property taxes. The $1.2 million was necessary to make up the difference for that budget cycle.

“Ultimately, the goal is to have the general fund stand alone,” Novo said. “Historically, in the city, the general fund has been supplemented by the utility fund because that is where the revenue comes from. We’d like to move away from dependency on the utility fund, but we’d want to look at other revenue streams to offset that.”

This is not the first time water quality has been a hot-button issue in Granite Shoals. The city addressed several violations of water standards from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality in February, dealt with sediment in the system when the Llano River flooded in October 2023, and scrambled to repair essential pumps after a lightning strike in August 2023.

The most recent quality issue was likely caused by the depressurization of the water system when pumps were shut down to repair a 6-inch main line break on May 5, according to Granite Shoals Utilities Superintendent Joshua Hisey. When the system is depressurized, water seeps into the pipe and sediment and particulates on the pipe walls fall away and inevitably enter homes when the water is turned back on.

Utility crews spent weeks after the line break flushing the system and answering calls for individual line work from residents reporting discolored water and sediment coming from their faucets.

“We’re finally getting to the point where (the discolored water) is stuck in residences. Now, we just have to flush their lines out,” Hisey told DailyTrib.com.

He elaborated on specific and general problems with Granite Shoals’ water system, explaining that much of the city’s distribution lines are old or terminate in dead ends that don’t allow for proper circulation, which leads to more breaks and potentially cloudier water. Many of the problem lines are from when Granite Shoals was built in the 1960s. 

Hisey said his six-man department responds to one to three line breaks a day.

According to the utilities superintendent, the 1000 and 500 blocks of North Sherwood Drive, the 100 to 400 blocks of East Bluebriar Drive, and the Kings Shore and North Lake areas of the city are consistently problematic.

Granite Shoals is nearing completion of $7 million in upgrades to the water system after work began in 2020. These improvements include a new water tower, disinfectant system, clarifying tank, and state-of-the-art software to manage the system. The upgrades were paid for with a $7 million water bond approved by voters in 2019.

While the upgrades will help mitigate contamination and improve water quality, they do not solve the problem of aging, underground water lines prone to breakage. 

Novo, the city manager, said major upgrades and line replacements would require major money.

“I think, at this point, what we’re looking at is a thorough analysis of what we have and what we need to upgrade so that we can develop some numbers and start looking for funding mechanisms like grants or bonds or whatever it looks like to fund (water line) improvements,” she said.

Hisey gave a ballpark estimate of $9 million to $15 million to overhaul the aging distribution system, something Granite Shoals has not been able to afford. The city would have to make extreme budget cuts or dramatically increase its revenue to stop making the utility transfer, Novo said. 

Some cities, like Marble Falls, generate serious revenue from sales tax to help with civic upgrades. Marble Falls collected a whopping $8.56 million in sales tax alone in fiscal year 2023-24. Granite Shoals only collected $275,000 that same year.

“If we were to see more sales tax and commercial activity, it would lighten the load and dependence on the utility funds,” Novo said.

dakota@thepicayune.com