Will the Water Flow at Northridge?!?

Travis County finally finds a way to bring water to tiny Northridge Acres

Northridge Acres' current water system
Northridge Acres' current "water system" (Photo By Jana Birchum)

Someone has kidnapped Kenneth Snyder and replaced him with a pod person. What other explanation could there be for the effusive thanks to county leaders from the Commissioners Court's one-time nemesis on Tuesday morning?

Snyder has a long history with Travis County, and most of it hasn't been good. Week after week for more than two years, Snyder was the one who came to county leaders to talk about Northridge Acres. Stuck between Austin and Round Rock (and Travis and Williamson counties), the ragtag subdivision lost its water well in 1999 and was forced to use a hook-up to its fire hydrant for a water supply. The local water corporation, never quite a going concern, was eventually forced into receivership. Water rates skyrocketed, and because of needed repairs the water quality was not always the best.

Located only a block from Round Rock's picture-perfect La Frontera development, Northridge was a collection of modest homes with water service that was sporadic, at best. Snyder called it a colonia, and railed against county and city leaders on a regular basis. Nothing satisfied him. A grant from the Texas Water Development Board for wastewater service failed to take hold in Northridge Acres and had to be returned to the state agency. Angry and frustrated, residents filed lawsuits against one another. Snyder brought photographs, a video, and even access-TV producer/freelance agitator Mike Hanson to court.

But there was Snyder on Tuesday morning, trying to give county leaders advice on what will soon be, finally, a $1.3 million water line project in his subdivision. If all goes well, water should be running by January 2006. "I know you're doing everything you can on this project," Snyder told the commissioners. "I just don't think it's gonna cost us $1 million."

What's happened to Northridge Acres has happened under the radar. Dan Smith, aide to County Judge Sam Biscoe, intervened in the Northridge Acres conflict, taking on the role of project manager. He got the residents to drop their lawsuits against one another and the city of Austin to agree to provide water service if the county could get the water lines fixed. He got Williamson Co. to agree to put up $150,000 toward the project and Travis Co. to provide $167,000 in in-kind services.

Most importantly, the state passed legislation to address areas like Northridge Acres. In September, the Texas Water Development Board approved $1.3 million in assistance to the Northridge Water Supply Corp., consisting of a $1 million grant from the Small Community Hardship Program and a $334,000 loan from the TWDB's Rural Water Assistance Fund to construct water lines, install hydrants, and add new water meters. Smith is still looking for a final $250,000 to cover the loan.

Previous grants didn't work because they didn't really address the needs of Northridge Acres, Smith said. They addressed wastewater when the subdivision really needed water service. They required manpower "sweat equity," but Northridge Acres' residents are elderly. Still, Smith said, Travis Co. was committed to fixing the problem. "Just because there's not a program that fits their needs doesn't mean you give up," Smith said. "It was our job to work with those agencies to come up with a program that did work. We promised Northridge Acres we would get out there and help them if we got this through the Legislature."

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county government, Kenneth Snyder, Northridge Acres, Travis County, Texas Water Development Board, Dan Smith, Sam Biscoe

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