Athens Review, Athens, Texas

Local News

April 17, 2014

Water authority is born

Athens — It would be hard for anyone under the age of 50 to imagine East Texas without the abundance of lakes in the region, providing water and sources of recreation.

Many of the reservoirs in East Texas today, were created in the years immediately following the dusty, dry, decade of the 50s, when drought conditions left Texas parched for water. The rainfall all but stopped at the beginning of the decade and by 1957, 244 of the state’s 254 counties, including Henderson County, had been declared Federal Disaster Areas for lack of rainfall.

 In 1957, Athens city officials responded to the need of more water sources by requesting permission from the State of Texas to condemn a large tract of land for a reservoir. The 55th Texas Legislature met in 1957 and created the Athens Municipal Water Authority giving it the power  to develop, construct or purchase dams, reservoirs, underground and other sources of water.

The Authority was also authorized to construct or purchase all works, plants, and other facilities necessary or useful for providing a source of water supply and storing the resource.

In addition, the legislature granted the Authority the power to develop or purchase additional underground or other sources of water and to improve, enlarge and extend its water system.

“The lake was created for the sole purpose of providing water to the City of Athens and only the people living within the city limits, the beneficiaries of the water, were taxed to pay for the construction of the lake,” AMWA Executive Director Wylie Pirkle said.

After years of planning and preparation, on January 1, 1963, Lake Athens was impounded to ensure that the city would have an abundant source of water for the years to come.

Within a few months work on the dam and facilities was completed and the city began to purchase water from AMWA, a practice that continues to this day.

Athens City Administrator Pam Burton has been employed by the city since 1978.

For most of those years, the city and Water Authority had an amicable relationship.

“In 57, it’s my understanding that the city didn’t have very good credit, so they wanted to establish the Athens Municipal Water Authority for the purpose of selling bonds to purchase land and construct Lake Athens, the water treatment plant, and all of the facilities,” Burton said.

In the early days the taxes collected were used to maintain and operate the facilities. City employees provided the day to day functions at the facility, because AMWA had no employees.

“It was always a very open agreement,” Burton said. “Every month, the city utility director presented bills to the Water Authority. They paid the bills whether they be maintenance issues, whether they be minor or more expensive ones.”

In June 1991, the city and AMWA entered an agreement that Burton calls, “a little ambiguous.”

“It says the city shall perform the day to day maintenance operation,” Burton said. “Under the section of the contract called “consideration” AMWA will pay for everything, the cost of repairs and maintenance over $1,000. That wasn’t a whole lot of expenditure on the city’s end in regard to maintenance and operations.”

The city employees did the day to day upkeep, such as mowing, and taking care of equipment.

“They made the purchase of supplies and the city employees did the work,” Burton said. “That worked out well and was a 20 year contract.”

An updated agreement was reached in 2011 that contained minor changes, Burton said.

“It was still a good working relationship,” Burton said. “There was never any question of who paid what.”

That changed, dramatically, in 2013.

Editor’s Note: This is the first in a four-part series seeking to educate the voters prior to the May 10 election to decide the fate of the water board.


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