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La Joya plans to build new wastewater treatment plant

After a decade of delays, the city of La Joya may finally build a modern wastewater treatment plant.

La Joya wants to replace the city’s old, pond-based wastewater treatment plant with an activated sludge plant — and increase capacity from 350,000 gallons per day to 1.2 million.

The old plant, which La Joya built in 1982, is already at 90% capacity, according to a report prepared by the city engineer. It’s also located in a floodplain, which becomes a major cause for concern during hurricanes.

“The past administration, they were just putting little patches here and there, and trying to buy some time,” said Mayor Isidro Casanova. “Well, the time has come. And we need to get this fixed.”

Casanova and the City Council started planning the new wastewater treatment plant last year.

They hired Houston-based S&B Infrastructure and agreed to pay the engineering firm nearly $1.7 million to handle the project.

La Joya also sought assistance from the Texas Water Development Board and the Rural Utilities Service, which is part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

After reviewing 99 projects that requested funding through the Clean Water State Revolving Fund, the water development board ranked La Joya first.

The water development board invited the city to apply for a nearly $10.3 million loan in January 2021. About $3.6 million of the principal may be forgiven through a program designed to assist disadvantaged communities.

If construction starts in November, the project could be completed by January 2023.

La Joya currently depends on a pond-based wastewater plant built in 1982. Sewage from nearly 1,300 customers moves through a series of ponds, which separates water from solids.

Effluent from the plant is discharged into the Rio Grande.

“The wastewater treatment plant reached its design capacity and has continuously been cited by TCEQ for various violations, prompting a system wide upgrade including secondary treatment of the effluent,” according to a proposal S&B Infrastructure submitted to La Joya, which referred to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality as the TCEQ.

City Engineer Dario V. Guerra came to a similar conclusion.

“The facility has reached its 90% capacity and cannot meet the anticipated needs of the City in its present condition,” Guerra wrote in an environmental information document submitted to the water development board.

Upgrading the existing plant simply isn’t feasible, Guerra concluded. Building a new plant would address the looming capacity problem and bring La Joya into compliance with TCEQ regulations.

The new plant would also be designed to mitigate any danger posed by flooding.

Hurricanes pose a major threat to the existing plant, which is located south of Military Highway. If the ponds overflow or the plant floods, sewage would contaminate the surrounding area.

“We’ve been very fortunate that we haven’t had any serious issues with flooding,” Casanova said.

La Joya plans to build the new plant nearby. It would be designed to survive a 100-year flood.

The City Council received a briefing from S&B Infrastructure on Tuesday afternoon. It’s waiting on a decision from the water development board.

“We just need to be patient,” Casanova said. “It’s going to happen.”

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