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MINERAL WELLS — Drought conditions could descend another stage by midsummer for Mineral Wells and residents in Palo Pinto and Parker counties who buy water through seven wholesalers the city supplies, council members learned Tuesday.

That’s about 37,000 people.

There was good news, too, in a comprehensive water report by City Manager Dean Sullivan.

“We have secured a very significant source of raw water to meet our needs,” Sullivan said of an agreement reached Monday afternoon between the water district that owns Lake Palo Pinto and the Brazos River Authority.

The arrangement to pull water directly from the river, which the river authority controls, was so far by a handshake agreement, Sullivan said.

Costs, as well as just how much water the district will draw, are details to be finalized, he said Wednesday. He said the district will buy the river water and pass the cost to the city.

“We’re down to the fine print,” he added, praising Palo Pinto County Municipal Water District 1 General Manager Howard Huffman for achieving the handshake with BRA officials.

Under the scenario, Huffman’s district will blend the newly acquired river water with water from Lake Palo Pinto at the district’s pump station 18 miles down Palo Pinto Creek.

The blended water will be piped from there to a pre-sedimentation reservoir at the Hilltop Water Treatment Plant north of Mineral Wells.

After 30 days of allowing silt and other heavy matter to settle, the blended water then will go through the water treatment plant.

From there, it will flow into the city’s potable water distribution system.

That was the good news on Tuesday.

“This is real, this is not some government conspiracy,” Sullivan said. “We’re on track, potentially this summer, to drop into Stage 3 (Drought).”

Stage 3 includes all the restrictions in Stage 2 — no outside watering except for animals, no washing vehicles or filling swimming pools, construction limited to using only reuse water from the wastewater treatment plant — plus bringing a reverse osmosis plant online.

The city does not have an osmosis unit, Sullivan said. Under Stage 3, one would be needed to desalinate river water, which is naturally salty from the river’s Salt Fork upstream.

“And it’s a seven-figure bullet,” he added.

That expense is apart from the cost of building a new water treatment plant to replace the 60-year-old Hilltop plant.

Those cost around $40 million, but Ward 3 Councilwoman Beth Watson noted costs rise monthly in today’s municipal construction market.

Sullivan also provided a historical perspective on today’s water challenge.

“What we’re feeling is the ill effects of last year,” he said, producing a slide showing 13 inches of rainfall in the lake’s watershed in 2022. “Our average rainfall should be twice that, at 26 inches.”

Mayor Regan Johnson later said residents have asked why the city is in drought when it was hot and dry last summer “and we still had water.”

That 13-inch year is the reason, she said — today’s drought is spurred by last year’s paltry precipitation.

Sullivan also explained the lake’s watershed actually flows northeast from the Ranger Hill area toward Mineral Wells. That’s why city residents can see rain pool in their yards and wonder why the city is in Stage 2 Drought.

Councilman Doyle Light, who also was reelected mayor pro tem by the council on Tuesday, said there is a need for the city’s residents to understand their water source better.

“People just don’t understand that our water supply lake — it can rain here in town, and it doesn’t help our lake,” he said.

And Ward 1 Councilman Jerrell Tomlin, who had taken the comment on water in someone’s yard while he was at the bank, urged residents to take the drought seriously.

“I hope everybody is listening,” he said. “We’re all in this together, and I strongly encourage people to hear what the city manager said. and let’s all work on this together.”

Sullivan also told the council he does not plan to police residents’ compliance with drought restrictions.

“I’m not going to turn our people loose to just do enforcement,” the former 10-year Mineral Wells police chief said. “I am not willing to alienate the public in my former role.”

Also Tuesday, the council choose its bank depository after tabling the decision two weeks ago to verify what council members were seeing in two bids.

One was from the city’s longtime banker, First Financial Bank, the other from First National Bank of Albany/Breckenridge.

First National, which has an interim branch in Mineral Wells and plans a permanent home, offered a higher cap on interest earned.

It also projected investment income, over five years, at $250,000 better than First Financial.

The First National nod, which was for a two-year renewable contract, was unanimous.

Also Tuesday, council members considered or acted on the following matters:

• Approved zoning for a three-story, 60-unit apartment complex on 3.5 acres between SE Sixth Avenue at SE 12th Avenue.

John Peters, representing Capital Ranch Real Estate, said developers also plan either a children’s playground or a dog park at the new complex.

• OK’d zoning to allow Abhishek Pare to move his Discount Smoke Shop from 112 Garrett Morris Parkway to 1100 SE First St.

Pare told the council the current site does not attract foot traffic.

• Welcomed Kyle Kelley as the new Place 1 Councilman, following the May 6 election.

In addition to Light being reelected, Ward 2 incumbent Carlos Maldonado also took the oath for a new term.

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