The TCEQ and Colonias
The TCEQ’s enforcement and permitting programs can play major roles in timely delivery of water and wastewater infrastructure.
Definition: Colonias in Texas are residential subdivisions, usually in unincorporated areas of a county, lacking all or some of the basic services, such as water and sewer, paved roads, electricity, drainage, etc.
TCEQ’s Role in Colonias
Enforcement - Some TCEQ enforcement actions affect cities or other political subdivisions and water supply corporations (WSCs) which provide water/wastewater services to colonias.
Supplemental Environmental Projects (SEP) - In lieu of administrative penalties, a respondent in any enforcement matter before the TCEQ can choose to invest penalty dollars in improving the environment. Some SEP funds have been used to connect colonias to existing water and/or sewer systems or to provide septic tanks for colonia residents, for example.
Certificates of Convenience and Necessity - The TCEQ issues certificates of convenience and necessity (CCN), which give the holder the legal right to provide water and/or sewer utility service, delineate the service area, and also obligate the certificate holder to provide service to every customer and qualified applicant who requests service within that area. (Note: responsibility for issuing CCNs was transferred to the Texas Public utility Commission on September 1, 2014).
Issues related to CCNs sometimes issues can delay provision of water and/or wastewater service, especially when competing jurisdictions seek to provide service to the same area or the applicant cannot prove they have the financial, managerial, or technical capacity to serve their area. The Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) will not release funds under its Economically Distressed Areas Program (EDAP) for colonia water and sewer service if there are CCN disputes.
On-Site Sewage Facilities - On-site sewage facilities (OSSFs) are regulated by the TCEQ and political subdivisions can receive authorization from the TCEQ for delegation of the program in their locality. Sec. 366.035 of the Health and Safety Code requires a political subdivision to receive OSSF delegation before TWDB can release EDAP funding for colonias water and/or sewer service. In addition, TCEQ’s OSSF rules are referenced in the MSRs an EDAP applicant must adopt.
Military Assistance - Through an agreement between the TCEQ and the Department Defense, National Guard units have helped dig trenches and dig wells for water for residents living in the U.S.-Mexico border region, including Dimmit, Webb, and Hidalgo counties. This program is currently dormant.
Inter-agency Colonias Coordination - The TCEQ Border Affairs manager serves as the agency’s representative on the Colonia Interagency Coordination Work Group, which meets quarterly and is chaired by the Colonia Initiatives Coordinator in the Office of Secretary of State of Texas, as mandated under state law (SB 1421, 76th Legislative Session). Through that work group, the TCEQ coordinates with colonia liaisons at other state agencies and agency staff to ensure that projects providing water and wastewater service to colonia residents are delivered quickly.
In addition, TCEQ often is required to participate in implementation of colonia legislation, such as SB 99, 80th Regular Session, which mandates quadrennial reports on the status of colonia infrastructure. SOS is responsible for these reports and TCEQ provides substantial input in the development of the report.
Model Subdivision Rules – Section 16.343, Water Code, requires the TWDB, with the assistance of the TCEQ and the Office of the Attorney General, to develop Model Subdivision Rules (MSRs) for the TWDB’s EDAP. Political subdivisions are required to adopt MSRs if they request Economically Distressed Areas funding through TWDB. While the MSRs have not been revised since 1999, a Task Force created under HB 2275 (81st Legislature, Regular Session, 2009) reviewed MSRs and other colonia rules and regulations.
Financial, Managerial and Technical (FMT) Assistance – TCEQ’s Water Supply Division provides free on-site assistance for public water systems and communities seeking to form or join public water systems, through the FMT contract. The Texas Rural Water Association currently serves as the contractor. FMT assistance is provided to many rural systems and colonias.
“Nuisance Findings” Funding – TCEQ, along with TWDB, provides funding to the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) so the latter can make a determination of nuisance finding. A nuisance finding allows an applicant to obtain an EDAP grant of up to 100%, instead of the limit of 50%.