McLennan County commissioners voted unanimously Tuesday to pursue a grant from the Texas Governor’s Office to come up with “innovations to prevent commercial sexual exploitation.”

“This is a new funding announcement through the public safety office of the Office of the Governor, so this is the first time we are applying,” said Brandy Brunson, grant manager for the McLennan County Sheriff’s Office.

She does not yet know how much or how little the county could receive, Brunson said.

“The money could go for personnel, investigation or prosecution, or a combination of those,” she said. “It also could involve our District Attorney’s Office. We will discuss the matter with all these offices going forward.”

Commissioner Patricia Chisolm-Miller said she is impressed with the work of a local ministry, Jesus Said Love, which offers assistance to people who want to escape the sex trade and possibly learn a marketable skill or launch their own business.

“I was not necessarily saying they should be given a portion of the funding,” Chisolm-Miller said after Tuesday’s commissioners court meeting. “I was wondering if we, the county was aware of their presence. I later learned that the sheriff’s office and Jesus Said Love are aware of each other, that the department has been involved in some of its initiatives. Maybe we can do more. I don’t know how much we could get from the governor’s office. I’m not sure how much we can apply for. But today we approved going ahead with an application.”

Water resource study

Also Tuesday, the commissioners voted to accept a $75,000 grant from the United States Bureau of Reclamation to continue its study of local surface and groundwater resources and how best to preserve or extend their viability. This would be the second such $75,000 grant the county has received. It was required to match both, so local spending totals $150,000.

The WaterSMART grant program encourages government entities to prepare drought contingency plans and to provide a framework for improvements, county Administrator Dustin Chapman said.

The grants are made available to the McLennan County Water Resources Group, which includes representatives of communities countywide.

“This group also gets involved in setting water rates,” Chapman said.

Commissioners pursued the initial grant in September 2015, when much of Texas, including McLennan County, was emerging from a more than four-year drought.

Then, the county said the plan would address drought impacts on the Trinity Aquifer, including problems with high arsenic levels and those created by zebra mussels in certain surface waters, the Tribune-Herald reported.

Tom Ray, water resources coordinator with Lockwood, Andrews & Newman in Waco, has been consulting with McLennan County during the process.

“This is proceeding in three parts,” Ray said Tuesday. “We did a drought contingency plan for the county, one of the first in Texas. There are a lot of those around among cities. It is unusual for a county. Second, and this is a major point, we have considered a conjunctive use effort involving both groundwater and surface water, with the objective of preserving groundwater. That involves modeling and preliminary engineering. Third, we looked at arsenic concentrations, especially in the southeast part of the county, and how we could deliver enough treated water to reduce arsenic concentration to a level acceptable to the Environmental Protection Agency.

“That was quite a big achievement for $150,000.”

The next step looks more into implementing the plan of action.

Elm Mott meters

Commissioners agreed to accept a $300,000 Texas Community Block Grant for water and sewer improvements in Elm Mott. The area is served by a water supply district and has been hampered for years by aging, inefficient meters that do not accurately calculate water use, Ross Water System office manager Rhonda Taylor said.

Commissioners’ action and the prospect of getting new meters “is a big deal out here,” Taylor said.

Local sources will provide a $15,000 match for the state grant.

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