Levi Parkway

A cotton harvester makes the rounds last week in a cotton field off Levi Parkway northeast of Lorena in 2011.

Tribune-Herald file photo

Water line leaks and boil notices have become commonplace in a slice of Lorena served by Levi Water Corp., but company officials think more than $1 million in infrastructure upgrades will provide relief.

Founded in 1964, Levi Water serves about 700 customers in southeastern McLennan County and portions of Falls County. Three wells tapped into the Trinity Aquifer provide water for the growing, cooperative-owned service that is adding five to 25 new meters annually as the Lorena area grows.

“We have a good water source, and we have no issues with the quality of our water. We do have issues with distribution lines. The infrastructure is getting old, and we have frequent leaks, which is why we’re taking steps to replace it,” said general manager Jim Sheffield, speaking by phone. “We have engineers working on bid documents now, and we will submit our plans to McLennan County and to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.”

Not all leaks require the issuance of boil notices, which means customers need to take steps to ensure water potability, but any disruption of service poses a risk, said Sheffield, who added he errs on the side of caution.

“When we make repairs, there is always a chance something will get in the line, so we do a lot of flushing. To be on the safe side, we issue a boil notice. Bottom line, we want to remain in compliance with the TCEQ. We also provide samples for laboratory testing, which takes about 24 hours.”

Levi Water’s customer base includes a sizable percentage of retirees and older residents, “which means we take safety to the next level,” Sheffield said.

The water company last issued a boil notice on March 23, and again it came in the wake of water line repairs and a loss of pressure, according to Sheffield and a report provided by TCEQ in response to a Tribune-Herald inquiry.

A compliance report furnished by TCEQ shows Levi Water Supply issued boil notices on four occasions during the past five years, two came in October and November of 2016 and both were related to a line break. Another came on Feb. 2 of this year, and the fourth on March 23, both due to pressure drops.

The TCEQ said boil water notices “can often result from events such as water line breaks causing a pressure loss, treatment disruptions, power outages and floods.” It notes the commission may assess a violation if a water supplier fails to issue a boil notice under qualifying conditions.

Levi Water Supply has received no citations or faced any disciplinary action related to its boil notices or leak repairs, according to Brian McGovern, media relations specialist, who provided responses to inquiries.

Between 2012 and the present, the TCEQ issued 11 notices of violations relating to Levi Water Supply following inspections. These included such notices as failure to fully seal air-vent screens to prevent insects from falling into a ground storage tank; failure to provide the ground-storage tank with a ladder; failure to conduct maintenance and housekeeping at the water plant; and, most recently, failure to obtain a sanitary control easement for two wells, according to a compliance history report provided by TCEQ.

Though TCEQ shows Levi Water Supply issued only four boil notices over five years, Sheffield estimated it actually issues one every four or five months. He said depending on the location of repairs and their impact on water pressure and service, the TCEQ does not always require formal notification.

Larry Groth, an engineer and former Waco city manager, serves on the board of Levi Water Supply and lives within the service area.

“We had a pre-bid conference today,” he said Thursday during a phone interview. “We hope to award bids sometime this month on thousands of different sizes of pipe, and work will begin shortly thereafter.”

Levi Water Supply “is a typical rural system,” Groth said. “It’s old, and needs upgrading. We’re seeing some growth, much of it involving residents who own larger tracts and want to split them up a bit, like me.”

Groth said he has a daughter and a son now living in the area.

He said system upgrades would carry a price in the $700,000 to $800,000 range, though Sheffield’s estimate hovered around $1 million.

The service area for Levi Water Supply is an unincorporated area between Interstate 35 and U.S. Highway 77 on the border between McLennan and Falls counties. It encompasses an area that includes Bull Hide Creek, and such streets as Iron Bridge Road, Southwinds Drive, Foxtrot Road, Kraemer Pass and Rosenthal Parkway, according to a map on the Levi Water website.

Its neighbor, the city of Lorena, is poised to become a magnet for residential development that could spill over to the area served by Levi Water, according to city officials, including public works director Keven Neal.

Lorena for decades lacked the sewage treatment capacity to accommodate growth that its location and well-regarded schools could attract. That scenario is changing due to a $2.5 million upgrade, said Neal, adding Lorena officials are hopeful builders will beat a path to the community’s front door.

“Lorena could become the next China Spring,” said Scott Bland, president of the Heart of Texas Builders Association, referencing another hotbed of construction. “The Rancho Lorena subdivision has proved popular. Its homes have septic tanks, and residents have access to Lorena schools.”

Loera Home Builders has announced it will place a $130 million, 260-home luxury subdivision in Lorena “on a site we are considering for annexation as we speak,” said Neal, speaking by phone Thursday.

These homes, priced at $500,000 or more, will go up along near Rosenthal Parkway and Birdie Lane, “very close to the Levi service area,” Neal said.

Lorena holds surface water rights in the Brazos River, and its water is purified by the city of Robinson for use by residents, Neal said.

Sheffield said the Levi Water rate structure “encourages conservation,” noting that most residential customers use less than 25,000 gallons per month. The average monthly bill stands at $157.25, and all but Cottonwood Baptist Church and a small machine shop are residential customers, Sheffield said.

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