DONNA — Nearly six years after Hurricane Dolly wrecked havoc on Donna’s city water treatment system, work is set to begin on repairs.

City leaders voted Tuesday to move forward on an engineering contract to work on repairs to the water plant, using Federal Emergency Management Agency funds administered through the Department of Public Safety.

Engineers from Sigler, Winston Greenwood & Assoc., which has provided some work on the plant since the hurricane, said their latest plant tour shows deteriorating water pumps, damaged controls to pump motors, damaged chemical feed controllers, an air compressor that is no longer operable and valves that are frozen in place across the plant.

Engineer Randy Winston said the plant needs three new water pumps and controls, new electrical wiring, new software and hardware for the plant’s control system, upsized pumps and a new air compressor.

City Manager Oscar Ramirez emphasized that the problems have not affected the safety of the water but create more work by prohibiting automation.

“The water plant is up and running,” he said. “What it translates to is running it more manually.”

Most of the problems followed heavy water damage by the 2008 hurricane and have hindered operations at the city’s only water treatment plant since then. FEMA originally granted Donna some $446,000 toward plant repairs, about $146,000 of which has been used to install a new valve and backup generator, Finance Director David Vasquez said.

Now the city is going back to the agency hoping to receive increased funding for the rest of the repairs, which are estimated to total some $1.2 million.

“FEMA came in and did an assessment three and a half weeks ago and said ‘Wow, there’s a lot more things that were not in that initial assessment,” Vasquez said. “The (grant) dollar amount has not been determined yet.”

Whatever funding Donna is able to receive will likely require a 25 percent match from the city. The engineering firm’s cut is 13 percent of the total construction cost.

A timeline for the project shows that it will take approximately six weeks to develop and submit a new cost estimate for repairs. The city will then bid for a contractor, with the goal of having one in place to begin work this summer. Construction is expected to take a year.

“He can’t all of a sudden shut the plant down and do this — it’s going to have to be done in little stages,” Winston said. “That’s a really time-consuming thing.”

Commissioner Simon Sauceda questioned why it had taken the city five years to move forward on repairs. Ramirez blamed staff turnover for the slow progress.

“It was transitional,” he said.


Elizabeth Findell covers Pharr, San Juan, Alamo, Donna, Weslaco, Mercedes, Progreso and general assignments for The Monitor. She can be reached at, (956) 683-4428 or on Twitter at @efindell.