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Farmers, Irrigators: The case FOR HCWID No. 3

AUSTIN, Texas – Five people testified against Senate Bill 2185 during a hearing Monday of the Senate Committee on Local Government.

The legislation, authored by state Sen. Juan Hinojosa, would dissolve Hidalgo County Water Improvement District No. 3 and transfer its assets and liabilities to the City of McAllen.

Here is the testimony of the five Rio Grande Valley residents that went to the state Capitol to oppose Hinojosa’s legislation:

Tito Nieto, general manager Cameron County Irrigation District No. 6

I am against this bill. We were actually created in 1922. We continue to serve the whole community, just like District No. 3 does. They have over 3,000 acres that they still serve and they continue to improve their infrastructure to provide a safe and effective water supply to all their customers.

I managed District No. 3 from 2004 to 2005 and at that time I had two former mayors of the board of directors, making sure that the interests of McAllen were taken into account. And as a member of the General Managers Association of the Valley, we are formally against this bill. It sets a precedent. This constitutes a taking of water rights that have been perfected by District No. 3.

Tim McDaniel, farmer:

I am an end user in this water district, which means I am a farmer. As they said, there are a few of us farmers, the number of 18, they said. If this bill goes through, I farm outside the city, which means I have no representation on their board, because I don’t have anything in the city. As far as that goes, this is not a good point for me.

Al Martinez, general manger of La Feria Irrigation District:

I am the general manger of La Feria Irrigation District. I am opposing this bill because it is really not representing District No. 3 fairly. There are 26 districts in the Valley. There are some sizable districts and there are some small districts. But we all function for the same purpose, to supply water to the farmers.

We have heard both sides, claiming that farmers still exist in this area. So, it would be pointless to do away with the irrigation district that is serving its purpose.

Nowhere has it been said that the irrigation district has failed the City of McAllen or its farmers. They have done an exceptional job and they continue to do that job. They have worked on their infrastructure. They are one of the few districts that were actually in operation after the hurricanes and after this freeze. And why? Because they put in the effort and time to rehab their district as they continue to function as an irrigation district.

Now, some districts don’t do that because of the situations they are in but this particular district, I am in favor of them staying for that particular function, because the are working on their infrastructure and they are supplying the needs of the city of McAllen and their farmers.

Also, there is a water right that has been perfected. This is something that they own. These farmers have invested time and effort into this district. For someone to come and say I will take it away from you is just rightly unfair. There is still a farmer, in this case there are several farmers. If I would be that one farmer you would be robbing me from this right I have invested in.

So, I would ask for all of you to take into consideration the multiple farmers that still exist. Once again, the city has never been cheated on water, has never been lacking any water and I strongly feel that the management of this district has done their job and have done it well. So, thank you for your time.

Lance Neuhaus, farmer:

I am representing myself. I am a producer and ends user in the area. We do utilize the water from this irrigation district. Plus we have our own water rights next door. We farm right next to the pumps.

I agree with what the previous gentleman just said, We do have our own water rights. They are ours, that our entity owns. If these water rights are taken from the district it is just like taking a piece of property. It is an asset. I am against the bill. And, again, the city has always been taken care of. The water that the city is purchasing is pumped with our agriculture water, which lowers the cost of that. I know the cost of the pumping is not going to change. The same number of personnel is going to be required to do all that. So, I don’t see a real purpose of doing this, other than a power takeover.

Eddie Zamora, resident:

First point. Hidalgo County Water Improvement District No. 3 protect McAllen’s water supply during Hurricane Dolly in 2008.

The current chairman and general manger saw that the new pump station was at a height below the levy. With board approval, the new pump station was elevated to a heigh above the levy, such that a rising river would flood over the levy without reaching his pumps.

At a candidate forum earlier, one of the elected members with McAllen Public Utility, which works hand in hand with the McAllen City Commission opined the he did not know that he would have ‘wasted’ the dollars used to raise this pump station, which cost less than $200,000. Fortunately for the citizens of McAllen, the first attempted takeover of Water District No. 3 failed in 2007. Because, if it had passed and been signed into law, McAllen would have had to spend millions of dollars trucking in bottle water because Water District No. 3 would have had to pull the pumps out to prevent the river breaching just like the other two water districts did during Hurricane Dolly in 2008.

It takes farmers and a farmer’s planning, preparedness and experience to know the want needs to be done to protect a farmer’s water supply. Currently, most of the board members on all the water districts are farmers.

Second point. Water District No. 3 protected McAllen’s water supply during the recent cold freeze. In addition to raising the new pumps above the height of the levy, Water District No. 3 also installed natural gas backup engine generators, such that intermittent, fluctuating or no electric power during that cold freeze a few weeks ago, where none of the other water districts could reliably deliver water, Hidalgo County Water District No. 3 continued pumping and delivering water without missing a beat, such that the City of McAllen was able to re-sell water to four other cities that had no water available to deliver to them. Once again proving that a farmers’ preparedness prevails even and especially in unexpected and abnormal times.

Third point. In 17 years as general manager of Hidalgo County Water Improvement District No. 3, Mr. Othal Brand, Jr., has never taken a salary, thereby saving the citizens of McAllen and the water district more than $1.4 million dollars.

Fourth point: There have been several votes taken by the citizens of Hidalgo County Water Improvement No. 3 and each time a vote is taken, they overwhelming say they do NOT want the City of McAllen taking over their water district. There are currently 18 farmers and more than 100 civilian irrigation district users in the district. There is precedent in adjudication of a law like this where the court has held that implementation of such a law could not happen without a vote of the citizens of the water district. Please vote “no” on this bill.