Las Lomitas residents still hauling in water, hopeful that grants will eventually pay for pipelines
Nov 26, 2012 (Austin American-Statesman - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
A couple times a week, Ira Parker drives about five miles to get water for his home.
The lines on Saturdays are the worst, he says, as the standpipe along U.S. 183 is only open from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and many who rely on the pipe for their water are working during the week.
Parker is one of dozens of residents in Las Lomitas near the southern tip of Travis County, a subdivision built a decade ago without water lines for the 15 10-acre lots. Neighbors are hoping grant money from the federal government -- about $480,000 -- will give them what virtually every other homeowner has.
But for the past decade and for the near future, the residents rely on trucking in their own water, a thousand gallons at a time.
"It's been kinda rough, you know, not having running water, but we've been making it out here. We do have to haul water, and we got used to it," Parker, 65, said.
Travis County operates the standpipe used by residents at an old satellite office along the highway south of Austin-Bergstrom International Airport. Officials considered shutting it down last year citing a variety of concerns: liability, the county not being licensed to sell drinking water and no one monitoring the site. The county used to have such standpipes at satellite offices in each precinct for use by rural residents; the one at the precinct 4 office is the last one open, officials have said.
Residents fought hard to keep the standpipe -- their only source of cheap, reliable water. The commissioners agreed to keep it open but in December 2011 decided to pay someone $42,390 a year in salary and benefits to tend to the standpipe at the satellite office and make sure users pay $2.50 per 1000 gallons for the water. (Payment was previously on the honor system.)
From October 2011 to September 2012, the most recent 12 months for which data from the county was available, the county sold 2.7 million gallons of water at the site, or enough water for 25 average households.
"When they were talking about getting that shut down it got scary, because with no water, you get shut down," Parker said.
To build the water lines, neighbors are trying to raise funds on their own by having neighborhood garage sales and selling tickets to barbecue lunches, said Ileana Riojas, a spokeswoman for the neighborhood. Their fundraising is just a small piece of the $480,000 that officials estimate it will cost to build water lines to the lots.
Still, the neighborhood is hopeful that the funding will come through eventually, Riojas said.
The roughly 30 households who live in the neighborhood are not particularly isolated: the subdivision is across from a neighborhood of dozens of mobile homes that are connected to running water.
The neighborhood has yet to finish being surveyed to see if they qualify to receive money from the Community Development Block Grant program, administered by Travis County but funded by the federal government.
Currently Las Lomitas is listed as one of the alternate projects for this coming year, meaning if the surveys show they are eligible for the federal money they can get any funds leftover from other programs this year, said Christy Moffett, who heads the block grant program for the county.
"There's no guarantee of getting funding, and the neighborhood knows that," Moffett said.
And after this budget year, which ends in September 2013, if the neighborhood qualifies it can try to get the funding again, this time as one of the target projects guaranteed money.
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