By JUDY SHERIDAN
Melton Harms, chairman of the board for the Parker County Soil and Water Conservation District, didn’t get any assurances from Parker County Commissioners Monday that — come budget time — the court would up its $30,000 yearly allotment to maintain aging flood control structures in the Trinity River Watershed.
Instead, Harms — who asked the court for more money — was directed by Judge Mark Riley to work with individual commissioners to secure assistance from their off-season work crews.
“I know we could do that without any legal issues,” Riley said, referring to a longstanding contract with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to help maintain the structures, built by the USDA/Natural Resources Conservation Service in the 1950s.
“The stability or instability of those dams could have an impact on our roads depending on where they are, so if we have some in that situation it seems to me that road and bridge could work without being reimbursed or anything like that.
“If we offset some of the road and bridge costs, it’s still cheaper than paying someone from another county to come up here and mow.”
The 34 flood-retarding structures — mainly small reservoirs that trap and release storm water slowly — are located on private property, many in northern Parker County, according to Wanda Carter, office manager for the PCSWCD.
Originally erected in rural areas, the structures are gradually being encroached on as the county urbanizes, Carter said, and three are now part of residential subdivisions.
The district owns the easements necessary to operate and maintain the reservoirs, Carter said, which has become more and more work as the structures age.
“Commissioner Craig Peacock has most of them in his precinct,” Carter added, “and he helps us tremendously.”
Private landowners also sometimes help with mowing, she said.
In his presentation to the court, Harms emphasized how important the reservoirs are, saying they control runoff from more than 54,000 acres, protecting infrastructure, private property and lives.
The state gave the district $28,000 in stimulus funding in 2010-11 — which was used to clear some of the sites — he said, but no funds have been allocated for the current biennium.
In addition, the PCSWCD is taking advantage of a mowing contractor’s discount this year by mowing all the cleared sites at once, he said, reducing the funds available for labor, mileage and supplies.
In 2014 — with mowing costs estimated at $7,700, only $13,000 will be available for payroll, Harms told the court, enough to fund 10.5 hours of work per week.
He said the district’s two part-time employees need more hours, so they can repair fences, maintain drainage structures, control regrowth, and deal with critters: gophers, which burrow into the structures; beavers, which work tirelessly to keep running water still; and wild hogs, which cause erosion by wallowing in the spillways.
The district has also fallen behind on a USDA-NRCS five-year plan, he said, adding that more funds would help the district continue to clear and maintain the sites.
Harms also asked the county for help with replacing rusty outfall pipes and other projects.
Carter said the PCSWCD, a non-taxing entity that depends on the county, has asked for more money every year for the past few years; Riley said commissioners once boosted the budget by $10,000 some eight years ago.
“It’s important to the whole county to keep these structures like they’re supposed to be,” Harms concluded. “I think we do a good job, but we need some help.”