Travis County commissioners work to bring drinking water access to some unincorporated areas

Travis County commissioners have committed to help address drinking water colonias—areas that lack basic services—in unincorporated areas. Courtesy Fotolia
Travis County commissioners have committed to help address drinking water colonias—areas that lack basic services—in unincorporated areas. Courtesy Fotolia

Travis County commissioners have committed to help address drinking water colonias—areas that lack basic services—in unincorporated areas. Courtesy Fotolia

The Travis County Commissioners Court will develop strategies for eliminating residential drinking water colonias—unincorporated areas of the county that lack basic services—after the issue was brought up when the court voted to raise the cost of county bulk water provisions in 2019.

“We have had some good positive feedback from the folks out there,” Commissioner Margaret Gomez said at a Jan. 7 meeting. “So I think for the first time in a long, long time it sounds like this is going to be a possibility.”

Gomez represents Precinct 4, which includes southeastern Travis County.

Las Lomitas is one such colonia. Built in the early 2000s, the subdivision lacks water lines because its developer sold lots without installing them, leaving dozens of families in the lurch.

"All of this stems from a bad land deal," said John Steib, general manager for the area water utility, Creedmoor-Maha Water Supply Coorporation.

As a result, residents rely on the county’s bulk, non-potable water supply for their cooking, bathing and other tasks.

WIthout pipes to deliver clean water, the subdivision cannot be served by the area water utility, Creedmoor-Maha Water Supply Corporation.

However, Gomez said the county and utility are working to help Las Lomitas residents get water access after years without.

“The Creedmoor folks have kind of made a turnaround,” Gomez said. “There is a possibility that we can bring water to Las Lomitas.”

Steib said the member-owned utility has been in communication with Las Lomitas for years but lacks the money to lay new lines, which he estimates could cost up to $300,000.

“Everything that we do has to be paid for by the customer that wants the service,” Steib said.

Recently, Creedmoor-Maha has taken another look at the subdivision and found ways to cut down some of the costs, including sourcing water from a source other than the city of Austin, which would incur a second tap fee of $4,7000 in addition to Creedmoor’s own tap fee of $5,000.

The county is working to provide funding for the laying of the water lines needed to connect Creedmoor’s main lines to individual properties within the subdivision.

With an easement, Steib said the county could cut costs by laying one line from the main line to a central point in the subdivision, to which individual homes could be connected, rather than multiple long lines from the main to each home.

With funding secured, Steib said the work to lay the lines and bring water access would take a few months.

Meanwhile, about a half dozen residents have already applied to Creedmoor to pay for the laying of individual line themselves, work that will only take a few weeks, Stein said.

After nearly two decades without water, Las Lomitas may finally see a change.

But other colonias exist in Travis County, and finding funding to help them will be similarly difficult, commissioners said.

“I think that in the coming years, particularly with the 3.5% revenue cap, this conversation about what does opportunity infrastructure really look like countywide and where are the gaps,” County Judge Sarah Eckhardt said. “And of those gaps which are within our power to solve... and which are just outside of our power.”


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