AP NEWS

New digs: El Jardin Water Supply breaks ground on headquarters

March 9, 2019

After 50 years of renting office space, El Jardin Water Supply Corporation, which started as a mom-and-pop operation supplying potable water for domestic use to ranchers and farmers, is building its own headquarters.

The company, which supplies water to parts of Brownsville not linked to the Brownsville Public Utilities Board’s water distribution system, held a ceremonial groundbreaking at the new site, on 3.2 acres next to Magic Electric Cooperative headquarters on F.M. 511 just south of Ruben Torres Boulevard. El Jardin’s current headquarters are at 2200 N. Minnesota Ave.

Mario Sais, El Jardin’s general manager, said the board of directors decided the $2,200 the company is paying in rent each month would be better spent investing in the company’s operations, thus the decision to build new offices.

“It’s a metal building,” he said. “It’s not an elaborate building. It’s something that we can afford.”

El Jardin was founded in 1968 to serve ranching and farming families such as the Loops, Rentfros and Rentrops, who lived in remote areas not served by BPUB, areas north and south of Brownsville’s airport. It is the only small water provider in the city.

“At that time they rented off of Vermillion Road, and back then in the ’60s there was like nothing out there,” Sais said. “It was all rural area.”

The farmers and ranchers created a corporation, acquired trenching, laid down water lines and began buying water from BPUB, which El Jardin still does today. Regulatory oversight was minimal in the beginning, though today the company is governed by the Public Utility Commission of Texas and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, Sais said.

Eventually some property owners sold off portions of their land, and the company’s distribution area became more densely populated, he said. Today El Jardin has just under 2,980 customers — the actual number of water meters in the field — serving a population of a little over 10,000 residents, which works out to about 3.46 people per meter, Sais said.

Much of the company’s coverage area is still farmland, especially south of the airport, Sais said. A map on the wall of his office shows El Jardin’s territory essentially surrounded by BPUB. Sais said it’s conceivable the city-owned utility may someday acquire El Jardin, its infrastructure and customers, though it probably won’t happen soon. He points to debt El Jardin took on in 2003 in the form of a loan from the Texas Water Development Board, in order to build a water tower and five miles of 16-inch water line.

“We’re in debt for about $1.8 million at this point, till 2033,” Sais said. “Maybe until then we probably won’t be taken over.”

Meanwhile, El Jardin still has customers to take care of, and is about to be awarded a $275,000 grant from the Texas Department of Agriculture to improve service for colonia customers in the northern part of the network, who are currently making do with a 3-inch main and no fire protection, he said.

“A lot of our system is looped together, which helps the distribution of our water to sustain some of these overburdened areas,” Sais said “We still have some colonia situations that we’re addressing, and it’s time to upgrade that area.”

sclark@brownsvilleherald.com