Rural Development: Problems and Progress of Colonia Subdivisions Near Mexico Border

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 1990-11-05.

Below is a raw (and likely hideous) rendition of the original report. (PDF)

                                     I rlitt*ct Stalt3   (;t*rlt*ral   ;Inwrlrltirlg   Office
                                     Report t,o t ho Cll~airman, Conunit~teeon
GAO                                  Agriculture, House of’ Representatives

November   1990
                                     Problems and Progress
                                     of Colonia
                                     Subdivisions Near
                                     Mexico Border

                           .-, ..,
<;AO/‘R(‘ED-9     l-37 .
GAO                General Accounting OiTl’ice
                   Washington, D.C.20648

                   Resources, community, and
                   Economic Development Division


                   The Honorable E (Kika) de la Garza
                   Chairman, Committee on Agriculture
                   Houseof Representatives
                   Dear Mr. Chairman:

                   As requested,we are providing information on nine counties in the four
                   states bordering Mexico’ concerningthe (1) number, location, and water
                   and sewer problems of colonias; (2) state and local efforts to address
                   these water and sewer problems; and (3) state and local efforts to con-
                   trol further development of colonias. Although there is no generally
                   agreed-to definition, the term colonias, as defined by us for this review,
                   generally refers to rural, unincorporated subdivisions along the U.S.-
                   Mexican border in which one or more of the following conditions exist:
                   substandard housing, inadequate roads and drainage, and substandard
                   or no water and sewer facilities.

                   Of the four states we reviewed, only Texas and New Mexico reported
Results in Brief   the presenceof colonias. Officials in the Texas counties we visited
                   reported about 842 colonias with 198,000residents. New Mexico County
                   officials reported 16 colon& with 14,600residents.

                   In Texas, 60 percent of the colonias in counties we visited have water
                   supplies, but lessthan 1 percent have sewagesystems.In New Mexico,
                   80 percent of the colonias have water and 7 percent have sewer systems.
                   Within these colonias that have water systems,someproblems exist
                   with the adequacy of the systems.For example, in someTexas colonias,
                   residents only have outside water spigots to provide water and do not
                   have indoor plumbing. Sometimesresidents have not hooked-up to the
                   water system becausethey cannot afford the user fees.

                   According to officials, someNew Mexico colonias with public water and
                   sewer systems need significant upgrading to bring them up to standards.
                   In colonias without public water systems,residents typically use wells
                   that present a potential contamination hazard. In colonias without
                   sewer, residents typically use septic tanks and pit privies that do not
                   meet public health standards.

                    ‘Webb, Hidalgo, Cameron, Wlllacy, Starr, and El Paso Counties, Texas; Dona Ana County, New
                    Mexico; Plma County, Arizona; and San Diego County, California

                    Plge   1                                                   GAO/BCELMls7       Rumi Development
             Both Texas and New Mexico have programs available to fund water and
             sewer development. Texas has recently authorized $100 million to fund
             water and sewer projects in those counties with economically distressed
             areas and all counties adjacent to the Mexico border. Eighty percent of
             the New Mexico colonias currently have public water as a result of state
             and local efforts; however, efforts to provide sewer systemsto those
             colonias have beenminimal.

             Over time, the efforts of municipal water suppliers and nonprofit water
             corporations have served to extend public water to 60 percent of the
             Texaseo~oniasand SOpercent of New Mexico colonias.The Farmers
             nbine Administration (F~HA)of the U.S. Department of Agriculture has
             funded someof these water supply projects; other federal and state pro
             grams and resourceshave also assisted.However, historically, almost no
             effort has been made to provide sewagefacilities to colonias.
             Although only two states in our review have colonias as defined by us,
             all states in our review now have requirements that would work to limit
             future development of colonias. Most recently, Texas passedlegislation
             in. 1989 requiring that political subdivisions in affected counties,
             including all border counties, adopt state model rules in order to become
             eligible for state financial aid for water and sewer projects. The rules
             ensure the availability of adequatedrinking water and sewer facilities.
             Before this law, there was no specific requirement that such facilities be
             However, Texas officials indicate this law may not fully preclude future
             colonia developmentsbecausethe statute exempts subdivisions having
             individual tracts larger than 1 acre. Also, regulations in Dona Ana
             County, New Mexico, requiring developersto provide water for house-
             hold use exempts subdivisions with lessthan 100 parcels.

             Colonias-as defined by our review-are predominantly located in
Ehckground   counties along the Texas-Mexicoborder. Available data, although lim-
             ited, indicate that residents of colonias are mostly Mexican-American;
             many work as seasonalfarm laborers, and many have incomesbelow
             the poverty level. Most colonias in Texas originated in the early 1950s
             when developersbegan creating unimproved subdivisions outside city


             Page a                                       GAO/RCEDBlS7   Rural Development

                       A 1987 CongressionalResearchService(CRS)report describeshow
                       colonias developed.Land developerssold small plots of land in unincor-
                       porated subdivisions to low-income people. The developersoften
                       financed these land purchasesfor 10 percent down and $10 to $80
                       monthly payments. A deed of ownership rarely accompaniedthis
                       arrangement. By Texas law, all that had to be provided were roads and
                       drainage. Until recently, counties did not have a clearly defined legal
                       authority to require developersto provide water and sewer to colonias;
                       thus, in most cases,these systemswere not initially installed in colonias.
                       Income and employment data which can provide someinsight into the
                       economiccondition of colonias are not available specifically for colonias;
                       however, such data are available for the counties in which colonias are
                       located. Colonia residents comprised about 14 percent of the population
                       (per county) in the 6 Texas counties visited. In Dona Ana, New Mexico,
                       colonias’ residents numbered about 11 percent of the population. In
                       fiscal year 1987, the unemployment rate for the Texas counties visited
                       averaged 18.6 percent compared with the 8.2 percent county average
                       unemployment rate in the state. For per capita income, the visited coun-
                       ties averaged $7,067 versus $12,876 for Texas (per county). Starr
                       County, Texas, had the highest unemployment rate of the counties vis-
                       ited-36.1 percent-and the lowest per capita income-!J4,262. Colonia
                       residents comprise about 26 percent of Starr County’s population, the
                       highest percentagein the counties visited. In New Mexico, Dona Ana’s
                       unemployment rate of 7.6 percent compareswith the 11.6 percent rate
                        for the state. However, the per capita income in Dona Ana was $9,578
                        compared with the $10,806 for the state.

                        Colonias are primarily found in Texas counties along the Mexico border.
Colonias: Number,       Of the six Texas counties visited, El Pasoestimated that it had the
Location, and Water/    largest number of colonias’ residents (70,000), followed by Hidaigo
Sewer Problems          (SO,OOO),  Cameron (46,000), Starr (lO,OOO),Webb(S,SOO),and Willacy
                        (3,400). These residents-almost 198,000-live in an estimated 842
                        colonias that are located mostly in the southern portion of these coun-
                        ties. Of the 10 Texas border counties we did not visit, each reported
                        color&s-totaling about 61 and having almost 11,090 residents
                        (according to a 1987 CRSreport). About 60 percent of the colonias in the
                        counties visited have accessto public water systems.Only 3 of the 842
                        colonias in the counties visited have public sewagedisposal systems.
                        Most of the on-site sewagedisposal methods being used by the other 839
                        colonias are believed by somelocal officials to be substandard.


                        Page g                                      GAO/RCEMls?   hral   Development
However, even those Texas colonies that have water systems encounter
problems. Someresidents cannot afford the hookup and monthly service
chargesand thus do not use the water service provided. In a few large
colonias with water service, major subareasremain without service.
Somecolonias experience inadequate water pressure.A water system
sometimesmeansthat residents are provided only with an outside
spigot; often they remain without indoor plumbing as they simply tap
the spigot and haul water inside.

Colonias in New Mexico are reported only in Dona Ana County, which
borders both Mexico and Texas. County officials estimate that Dona Ana
has 16 colonias that meet our definition with about 14,600residents. Of
these, 12 have accessto a public water system, but only 1 has accessto
a public sewer system.
According to Arizona State and Pima County officials, colonias do not
exist in Arizona. However, several housing developments,somewhat
similar to colonias, have emerged.These developmentsoccur when a
developer splits a large lot into three parcels-the maximum split allow-
able without forming a subdivision that is subject to statewide regula-
tion of subdivisions. Each of these three parcels is then subdivided into
threes, followed by possible additional splits, thereby creating an unreg-
ulated development. These developmentsare similar to coloniss with
respect to lack of adequate water supply, but they typically differ from
coloniaa as defined by us, generally becauseindividual housing units are
subject to state approval of their sewagesystems.
California State and San Diego County officials do not believe that
colonias exist in California. Off’icials indicated that California has very
strict rural subdivision regulations and zoning ordinances which likely
prevent the development of colonias. However, San Diego has a related
problem concerning lack of affordable housing for somelegal and illegal
aliens who without authorization occupy land owned by others and
have little or no shelter and no water or sewer-a situation different
from colonias as we have defined them, which are unincorporated subdi-
visions where residents are reported to contract for parcels of land.

                                             GAO/BCED41-37   hrd   Development
                       In Texas we found efforts at the state and county levels to addressthe
Efforts to Address     water supply and sewagedisposal problems in colonias. The Texas legis-
Water and Sewer        lature passeda law in May 1989 authorizing, after voters’ approval of a
Problems               state constitutional amendment,$100 million in bonds to be used to pro-
                       vide loans and grants for water and sewer projects in counties with eco-
                       nomically distressed areas and alI border counties with colonias.

                       About 60 percent of the colonias in the six Texas counties have been
                       provided public water through the efforts of municipal suppliers and
                       nonprofit water corporations. Funds for these water projects were some-
                       times provided by F~HA.Although legislation was recently passed
                       (becoming fully effective after our field work was completed) author-
                       izing funding for water and sewer facilities in border counties, histori-
                       cally, almost no progress has been made to provide sewagefacilities to
                       Texas colonias. Sewagesystemshave been provided to only three
                       colonias-two in CameronCounty and one in WebbCounty. In the
                       approximately 839 colonias without sewagesystems,residents rely
                       upon on-site disposal methods such as pit privies and septic tanks (often
                       The state of New Mexico has programs available for funding local water
                       and sewer systems and has provided funding to many municipalities and
                       local water consumer associations.According to Dona Ana County offi-
                       cials, public water has been extended to most of the county, including 80
                       percent of the colonias; however, efforts to bring sewagedisposal facili-
                       ties to the colonias have been minimal.

                       In 1989, Texas passedlegislation essentially requiring that economically
Efforts to Control     m           areas, including border counties and their political subdivi-
Colonias Development     ’ adopt model rules in order to becomeeligible for state financial
                       assistancefor water and sewer projects. The rules ensure the availa-
                       bility of adequate drinkiq water and sewer facilities. Such model rules
                       must prohibit the establishment of residential developmentswith tracts
                       of 1 acre or less that do not provide for adequate water supply and
                       sewer services.Also, these rules must prohibit more than one single-
                       family detached dwelling per tract.
                       Officials indicate that this legislation may not fully preclude the future
                       establishment of colonias, since it doesnot bar residential developments
                       having tracts larger than 1 acre.

                        Page 6                                      GAO/RCED41-87   Rural Development
New Mexico has empoweredcounties to regulate subdivisions, including
the authority to require land developersto provide adequatewater
supply and sewagedisposal facilities. Although Dona Ana County
requires developersto provide water for household use, the requirement
generally applies only to subdivisions of 109 or more parcels of land.
Thus, generally, developerswho limit their subdivisions to less than 190
parcels are not required to provide water to the residents.
Appendixes I through IV discussthe colonias situation in each of the
four states reviewed, including the results of our visits to the counties in

We conducted our review between March 1989 and February 1990 in
accordancewith generally acceptedgovernment auditing standards. We
Iimited our review to available information obtained primarily through
site visits, observations, discussionswith state and county officials, and
review of available studies of colonias’ problems. We visited and had
discussionswith officials in six Texas counties on or near the border and
in one border county each in New Mexico, Arizona, and California. In
each county, we toured several colonias accompaniedby local officials.
In addition, we discus& colonies-relatedissueswith state officials in
each of the four border states. As agreedwith your office, we did not
review the colonias situation in all border counties. As requested,we
selectedthe four Texas Lower Rio Grande ValIey counties-Hidalgo,
Cameron,WiIlacy, and Starr. We selectedWebbCounty and El Paso
County, Texas; Dona Ana County, New Mexico; and San Diego County,
California, becauseof reports of the existenceof colonias. Weselected
Phna Camty, Arizona, since it is the only border county in the state
with a major metropolitan area (Tucson), which is usually expectedto
 attract colonias’ developments.
As agreed with your office, unless you publicly announceits contents
earlier, we plan no further distribution of this report until 14 days from
the date of this letter. At that time we will send copiesto the Secretary
of Agriculture; the Director, Office of Managementand Budget; and
other interested parties. Mqjor contributors to this report are listed in
appendix V.

Sincerely yours,

John W. Harman
Director, Food and
  Agriculture Issues

 Pyle   7                                     GAO/BCED41-87   Bural Develosnnent

Appendix1                                                                   10
StateofTexas         Colonias: Number, Location, and Water/ SewerProblems   10
                     State Efforts to Address Colonias’ Water and Sewer     11
                     State Efforts to Control Colonia Development           11
                     Webb County                                            12
                     Hidalgo County                                         14
                     Cameron County                                         17
                     wiIIac!y county                                        20
                     starrcounty                                            20
                     El PasoCounty                                          22

Appendix11                                                                  27
StateofNewMexico     Colonias: Number, Location, and Water/Sewer Problems   27
                     State Efforts to Address Colonias’ Water and Sewer     27
                     St&e Efforts to Control Colonia Development            27
                     Dona AnaCounty                                         28

AppendixIII                                                                 32
StateofArizona       Colonias: Number, Location and Water/ SewerProblems    32
                     State Efforts to Address Colonias’ Water and Sewer     32
                     State Effort3 to Control Colonia Development           32
                     Pima county                                            33

AppendixIV                                                                  34
StateofCalifornia    Colonias: Number, Location, and Water/ SewerProblems   34
                     State Efforts to Control Colonia Development           34
                     San Diego County                                       34

AppendixV                                                                   35
MajorContributmsto   Resources,Community, and EconomicDevelopment           35
                         Division Washington,D.C,
ThisReport           Dallas Regional Office                                 35

                     Page 9

Table     Table I. 1: Texas County Summary of Colonias, 1989                       10

Figures   Figure I. 1: Colonia Locations in WebbCounty, Texas                      13
          Figure 1.2:Colonia Locations in Hidalgo County, Texas                    15
          Figure 1.3:Colonia Locations in Cameronand Willacy                       18
              Counties, Texas
          Figure 1.4:Colonia Locations in Starr County, Texas                      21
          Figure 1.5:Colonia Locations in El PasoCounty, Texas                     23
          Figure II. 1: Colonia Locations in Dona Ana County, New                  30


           CDBG      Community Development Block Grant
           CR3       CongressionalResearchService
                     Farmers Home Administration
                     Department of Housing and Urban Development

           -9                                        GAO/WED4137    Rural Development
Appendix I

State of Texas

                                   Table I.1 summarizesour findings concerningthe number of colonias,
colonias: Number,                  the number of colonias’ residents, and the number of colonias having
Location, and Water/               water and sewer facilities for each of the Texas counties visited. Wepre
                                   sent information on the water and sewer problems of each county later.
Sewer Problems
Tab& 1.1:Toxaa County Summary of
Colonkr, 198c                                                                     Numbu                             Number colonias with
                                                                                COlOflW             Numbu              watar       Sewage
                                   -Jnty                                        nsldmlta            CdOfllO8         8Y8tUM        syrtemr
                                   Webb                                              9,500                 w                3              1
                                   Hidalao                                          60,ooo                366                329                     0
                                   Cameron                                             441931              115c              103                     2
                                   Willacy                                              3,402                  9                   7                 0
                                   Starr                                               10,ooo               62                 42                    0
                                   El Paso                                             70,ooo              2506                19                    0
                                   Six County
                                   Total                                          197,833                 842                !a9                     3

                                   Ystimates     provided to GAO by IocaI officials.

                                   %io Bravo     io included as a Vkbb county cofonii because it was a cdonii at the time of our field visit
                                   (lS9), but    we have Moe learned that Rio Brevewas incopxated          after our visit. El Cenizo IS a colonla
                                   with pubtii    water and sewer, but is still considered a cdonia since it has substandard houslng and
                                   inedequate     roads and drainage.

                                   %a CQITUJand Portway Acres, just outside Brownville in Cameron county, are subdivisions that are
                                   considered cobnias even though they have publii water and sewer since they have substandard
                                   % addition to the 250 El Paso county colonias, the town of Socorro has an estimated 100 subdivislons
                                   (with 15,WO residents) that developed as cobnias, but they fail to meet our definition of colon&s
                                   because Sofxirro reinstated its government in lB6 and these cobnias were located in an incorporated
                                   town at the time of our field visit.

                                   We did not survey Texas colonias in counties other than the six we vis-
                                   ited. However, a CM report, entitled Border State Colonias:Background
                                   and Options for Federal Assistance,gives reported estimates of the
                                   number and populations of colonias in border counties for 1987.1Data
                                   from that report indicate that 91 percent of the Texas colonia residents
                                   Iived in the 6 counties that we selectedfor review. The remaining 10
                                   counties reported to CRSa total of 61 colonias and 10,850colonia
                                   residents for 1987.

                                    Page 10                                                              GAO/l&XD-81-87        Bud     Development
                    Texas passedlegislation in May 1989 amending the State Water Codeto
State Efforts to    provide financial assistancefor water supply and sewagedisposal
Address Colonias’   projects. In November 1989 Texas voters approved this provision as a
Water and Sewer     constitutional amendment,thus authorizing $109 million in bondsto
                    provide water and sewer loans and grants to counties with economically
Problems            distressed areas and to all border counties in which colonias are located.

                    In addition, the Texas Water Development Board has been administering
                    three funds that financially assist eligible political subdivisions with
                    water and/or wastewater projects-the Texas Water Developmentfund,
                    the Water Assistance fund, and the State Revolving fund. Counties have
                    sometimesused these funds to extend assistanceto colonias and to plan
                    water/sewer projects for colonias.

                    Until recently, Texas has not specifically authorized counties to require
State Efforts to    developersto provide adequatewater and sewer servicesto unincorpo-
Control Colonia     rated subdivisions, including colonias. In 1989, Texas passedlegislation
Development         that essentially requires political subdivisions in affected counties,
                    including all border counties, to adopt model rules requiring that ade-
                    quate drinking water and sewer facilities be provided in order for these
                    political subdivisions to be eligible for state financial aid for water and
                    sewer projects. These model rules must prohibit establishing residential
                    developments-defined as developmentswith individual tracts of 1 acre
                    or less-that do not provide for adequatewater supply and sewer ser-
                    vices. Also, these rules must prohibit the construction of more than one
                    single-family detached dwelhng per tract.
                    A manager in the Texas Department of Community Affairs and an El
                    PasoCounty Attorney believe that the legislation doesnot fully pre-
                    clude the future establishment of colonias.The statute applies to rural
                    subdivisions with individual tracts of 1 acre or less.Officials believe
                    that if developers create subdivision tracts larger than 1 acre, the new
                    law will not apply and developerscould continue to create colonias
                    without adequate water and sewageservices.

                    P4e   11                                      (uo/pcEDBlg7   Rural Dewdopment
Webb County

colonias: Number,           During our visit, WebbCounty had 40 colonias-3 with water systems
                            and 1 of these with a sewagesystem-and had approximately 9,600
Location, and Water/Sewer   residents according to county officials. Figure I.1 shows the geographic
Problems                    location of these colonias.

                            Oneof the county’s largest colonias, Rio Bravo, was incorporated subse-
                            quent to our visit and therefore is no longer technically a colonia
                            although it stiIl retains colonia characteristics such as substandard
                            housing and inadequate roads and drainage. Rio Bravo was one of three
                            Webbcounty colonias with a public water supply. The developer of Rio
                            Bravo had been building a sewagetreatment plant; however, county
                            officials stated that the Texas Health Department had stopped construc-
                            tion becausethe plant was being built on an unplatted area of the subdi-
                            vision. El Cenizo,a large colonia bordering Rio Bravo, receiveswater
                            from Rio Bravo but has its own sewagetreatment plant; however, it still
                            has substandard housing and inadequate roads. A third colonia, Larga
                            Vista, located just outside the Laredo city limits has water but no public
                            sewer facilities. The remaining 37 colonias have no accessto a public
                            water supply. Someresidents travel as far as 26 to 30 miles to any of
                            three county owned water spigots to fill their water containers.

                            Laredo, the county’s only urban center, has a policy of not extending
                            water lines outside the city limits except to industrial development sites.
                            Colonia residents are not permitted to hook up to the water lines
                            extended to industrial development sites, even though the lines may be
                            located nearby.

                            The main source of water for county areas along the border is the Rio
                            Grande River. Wells in the southern part of the county produce water
                            that is nonpotable becauseof high salt content.
                            pit privies are the primary method of sewagedisposal for WebbCounty
                            colonias. Of the 40 colonias, only El Cenizohas public sewagetreatment

                            Pye   11                                     GA0/BcEDa147   Rural Jh?velopment
Flguro 1.1: Colonir Locatkmr in W&b County, Toxro

                              Rqublkof   Noxko
Local Efforts to Address    Community Development Block Grant funds were used to extend city
                            water lines into a colonia just outside the city limits of Laredo; we found
Colonias’ Water and Sewer   no other evidenceof government sponsoredprojects to addresscolonias’
Problems                    problems in WebbCounty.

Local Efforts to Control    According to the WebbCounty Judge, during our March 1989 visit, the
                            county did not have the authority from the state to require rural devel-
Colonia Development         opers to provide adequate water and sewer facilities to the subdivisions.
                            Although county subdivision regulations require county approval of all
                            rural subdivision plats prior to the developersselling lots to the public, a
                            provision for water and sewer facihties is not a criteria for plat
                            approval. Also, the county doesnot actively monitor the start of new
                            subdivisions, so unplatted developmentscan and do occur. Sometimes,
                            the county first learns of new unplatted subdivisions when county road
                            crews discover new construction and report it to their supervisors.

Hidalgo County

colonias: NUIClber,         The Hidalgo County Chief Planner estimated that the county has about
Location, and Water/Sewer   366 colonias with 60,000 residents. None of these colonias have sewage
                            systems,but 329 have water supply systems.His estimate of 366
Problems                    colonias agreeswith the Texas Water Development Board’s 1987 “A
                            Heconna&sanceLevel Study of Water Supply and WastewaterDisposal
                            Needsof the Colonias of the Lower Rio Grande Valley.” Figure I.2 shows
                            the location of Hidalgo county colonias.

                            Page 14                                       GAO/RczDel-a7   Rural Development
Flgun 1.2:Colonia Locations in Hldalgo County, loxas                                 1

             Ropubllc of Moxluo

                                             Page 16   QA0/ltcEw1slr   &ml   Development
                            The Chief Planner estimated that 90 percent of the county’s colonias
                            have accessto water supplied by four nonprofit water corporations.
                            However, he believesthat about 86 percent of the residents in colonias
                            having water supply systems are hooked-up to the system; the
                            remaining 16 percent of the residents probably cannot afford to hook up
                            and/or pay the monthly fees. In addition, someresidents on a water
                            system have only an outside water spigot to provide water; that is, they
                            still lack piped water into the residencesand indoor plumbing.

                            According to this official, 10 percent of the colonias in the county are
                            not on water supply systemsbecausethe residents cannot afford instal-
                            lation costs.Therefore, financial assistancefor installing a distribution
                            system would be neededto bring water to these colonias.

                            No public sewer system is available to colonias in Hidalgo County.
                            According to the Chief County Planner, septic tanks, someof which are
                            substandard, and pit privies are the primary methods of on-site sewage

Local Efforts to Address    Becauseof its 360,000 plus population, Hidalgo County is consideredan
Colonias’ Water and Sewer   urban county eligible for the Department of Housing and Urban Devel-
                            opment’s (HUD)Community DevelopmentBlock Grant (CD&) Program.
Problems                    According to its Program Director, the Hidalgo Urban County Program’s
                            goal is to provide a decent and viable urban environment by promoting
                            standard housing and necessaryinfrastructure, and expanding economic
                            opportunities principally to low- and moderate-incomepeople. The
                            county received about $6,600,000in CDBG    funds in fucal year 1989 for
                            allocation amongthe county and its cities and towns. The county’s
                            share, $760,000, was used primarily for street improvements, including
                            improvements in somecolonias.

                            We found only one county CDW)project that funded a colonia water
                            system. A $16,000 CI)BGproject for the Perezville colonia funded the
                            installation of 4,000 linear feet of water lines to colonia residents-60
                            percent of whom have low- and moderate-incomes.
                            Besidesthe Perezville CDBG  project, other water improvement projects in
                            rural Hidalgo County were carried out by four nonprofit water supply
                            corporations servicing the county. The Chief County Planner said that
                            these improvements have extended potable water to about 90 percent of
                            Hidalgo colonias. Many of these improvements were supported by F~HA
                            loans and grants.

                            P-0   16                                      GAO/ECEDBl-S7   BumI Development
LocalEfforts to Control     Hidalgo County subdivision regulations require developersto obtain
                            CommissionersCourt approval of rural subdivision plats before selling
Colonia Development         lots. In addition, Hidalgo County adopted subdivision regulations on
                            March 9,1987, requiring new rural subdivisions to have potable water
                            and adequate sewagedisposal facilities.
                            Also, the county requires that rural construction projects have building
                            permits prominently displayed on the premises.The sale of building per-
                            mits gives the county Planning Department an idea of growth areas and
                            an opportunity to find out if the areasbeing developedhave been
                            platted. County building inspectors travel the county looking for con-
                            struction activities not displaying building permits as a way to identify
                            subdivisions that may not be platted.

                            The Chief County Planner said that when an unplatted subdivision is
                            found, notification is provided to the county commissionerof the pre-
                            cinct in which the subdivision is located. That commissioneris respon-
                            sible for action that assuresthe subdivision complies with county

Cameron County

Colonias: Number,           The Cameron County Community DevelopmentCoordinator and Health
Location, and Water/Sewer   Department Inspectors estimated that the county has 116 colonias with
                            about 44,931 residents. Two colonies have sewageand water, and
Problems                    another 101 have water systemsonly. Figure I.3 shows the location of
                            these colonias.
                            Approximately 90 percent of the colonias have accessto potable water
                            provided by five nonprofit water corporations and municipal water sup
                            pliers, including Brownsville and Los Fresnos.

                            Page 17
Flgun 1.3:Colonla LocaUona in Camwon   andWlllacy   Countior, Tour

                                                                     -\ . .

                                          Page 18
                            However, not all areas within somelarge colon& have public water. For
                            example, Cameron Park is one of the largest colon& with between
                            2,009 and 3,000 residents; however, one of its subareas(Park III) does
                            not have water service. The County Community DevelopmentCoordi-
                            nator stated that funding has not been available to install a water distri-
                            bution system in Park III.
                            According to the Community DevelopmentCoordinator in the County
                            Planning Department, the only coloniss with public sewer systemsare
                            L,aComa and Portway Acres which are serviced by the city of Browns-
                            ville. septic tanks (some substandard) and pit privies are typically used
                            for on-site sewagedisposal.

Local Efforts to Address    According to the County Planning Department’s Community Develop
                            ment Coordinator, the La Coma and Portway Acres coloniasjust outside
Colonias’ Water and Sewer   of Brownsville have been provided water and sewageprojects and street
Problems                    improvements to make them attractive for annexation by Brownsville.
                            However, the city has not taken action to annex. The county used grants
                            from the Texas Community DevelopmentProgram to make these
                            improvements. (Cameron is a rural county and not entitled to federal
                            CDBG funds, for which only urban counties are eligible.)

                            Nonprofit water supply corporations that serve the county are using
                            FMIA loan and grant funds to extend potable water to the colonies
                            within their service areas.mm has funded Cameron County water
                            projects totaling $9,097,100between 1978 and 1988, accordingto avail-
                            able MU information, which was confirmed by the manager of a local
                            county water supply corporation.

Local Efforts to Control    Cameron County requires that subdivision plats receive commissioner’s
Colonia Development         court approval before the sale of lots by developers.However, the
                            county’s subdivision regulations, adopted in 1971, do not require that
                            water and wastewater facility plans be included in subdivision plats.
                            The county plans to use the authority provided by the 1989 Texas legis-
                            lation to require developersto adhere to new subdivision regulations for
                            water and sewageservice, according to the County Engineer.

                             Page 19                                       GAO/TmzMl~    l?nlal Dwelo$meat
Willacy County

Colonias: Number,           County Commissionersestimate that Willacy County has 9 colonias with
Location, and Water/Sewer   3,492 residents. Sevencoloniss have water systems but none have
                            sewage.Figure 1.3 identifies the location of colonias in Willacy and
Problems                    Cameroncounties.

                            Commissionen said that three nonprofit water supply corporations and
                            the city of Lyford supply water to somerural areasof the county. Only
                            the Zapata Ranch and El Ton, colonias do not have water supply sys-
                            tems. However, in the other sevencolon@ many residents have inade-
                            quate water pressure or have not hooked-up to the water supply system
                            becausethey cannot afford the fees.

                            According to County Commissioners,no sewer system is available to the
                            colonias. Septic tanks (somesubstandard) and pit privies are typically
                            used for on-site sewagedisposal.

Local Efforts to Address    We found no evidenceof colonia water/sewer assistance.However, two
Colon&s Water and Sewer     County Gxnmissioners have conducteddoor-to-door surveys in their
                            respective precincts to gather information neededto apply for state
Problems                    grants to improve water service to colonias.

Local Efforts to Control    We did not find any county subdivision regulations in Willacy County.
Colonia Development         According to the County Judge, the county usesordinances and state
                            health regulations to regulate subdivisions only to the extent neededto
                            comply with the National Flood Insurance Program. Theseordinancesdo
                            not require that developersprovide potable water and wastewater facil-
                            ities in subdivisions.

Colonias: Number,           According to the County Ckxm%natorof Federal and State Programs,
Location, and Water/Sewer   Starr County has 62 colonias with an estimated 10,000residents. None
                            of the colonias have sewage,but 42 have water systems.Figure I.4
Problems                    shows the location of colonias.

                            P4e   to
                                           According to the County Coordinator, 42 colonias in the southern part of
                                           the county receive water from public water systems.However, this offi-
                                           cial said that these colon& frequently experienceinadequate water
                                           pressure, especially during peak evening hours. The remaining 20
                                           colonias located in the northern part of the county use well water.

                                            The County Coordinator said that none of the colonias have accessto a
                                            public sewer system. He added that substandard septic tanks and pit
                                            privies are typically used for sewagedisposal.

Flgun I.4 Colonia Locationa In Starr County, Trxar

                                                                                 0                        k

                                                        l            0

                                   Ropubllo of Maxleo

   0 cokni8088i~n8liofl
   @ cim, Towtu, Q( cQmmuniur

                                             P8ge 21
Local Efforts to Address    The County Coordinator said that colonias in the southern part of the
Colonias’ Water and Sewer   county receive water service from the cities of Roma and La Grulla, the
                            Starr County Water Control and Improvement District, and five non-
Problems                    profit water supply corporations. Someof these entities have used
                            $3,424,400in F~HAfunds between 1978 and 1988 to extend water lines
                            to colonias and to fund a water treatment facility. The source of water
                            for the southern area is the Rio Grande River and the Falcon Reservoir.
                            The colonia residents in the northern part of the county have individual
                            water wells and are not serviced by water suppliers.

Local Efforts to Control    In June 1988 the Starr County CommissionersCourt revised the
Colonia Development         county’s subdivision regulations to require that proposed rural subdivi-
                            sion plats contain a guarantee that residents will have accessto potable
                            water. Also, developersmust provide   each lot within a subdivision with
                            a connection to a public sewer system, if available. If not available,
                            developersmust provide for either septic tanks or a sewagetreatment
                            plant. By requiring that water and sewer systemsmeet standards, the
                            county plans to prevent the future development of coloniss.

El Paso county

Colonias: Number,           The Subdivision Coordinator of the El PasoCounty Road and Bridges
Location, and Water/Sewer   Department estimates that about 260 colon&s exist in the county. only
                            19 of these have water and none have sewagesystems.An attorney in
Problems                    the County Attorney’s office estimates that 70,000 residents live in
                            these colonias. Since 1983, three colonias located in the Northwestern
                            part of the county have been annexedby the city of El Paso.Figure I.6
                            shows the location of colonias.

                            ~40   aa                                     GAO/llCED4147   lhrd   Development
flgun   1.5:Coionia Location8 in El Pam County, loxa8


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                                                             *                              a.
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                                             Page 28                                               GAO/-EcEDel~   Buml Develapment
                            According to the Subdivision Coordinator, only about 19 of the 260
                            colonias are connectedto a public water system. Residentsin the
                            remaining colonias either haul in water from their friends and relatives
                            that live elsewhere or have it delivered by a local water delivery com-
                            pany. The city of El Pasostopped extending water lines outside the city
                            limits in 1979.
                            According to the County Attorney’s Office, none of the 260 colon&
                            have accessto a public sewer system. Colonia residents use septic tanks,
                            pit privies, and cesspoolsfor sewagedisposal.

                            According to the Mayor of Socorro,an estimated 100 colonias were
                            incorporated into the town of Socorroin 1986. These 100 developments
                            do not meet the definition of colonias used in this review since they were
                            incorporated before our field visit. However, they still retain many fea-
                            tures of colonias. The town has about 26,000 people, approximately
                             16,000of whom live in these former colon& that still do not have
                            accesseither to public water or to public sewer systems.

Local Efforts to Address    The El PasoCounty Lower Valley Water District Authority (the
Colonias’ Water and Sewer   “Authority”) is a conservation and reclamation district created in 1986.
                            The Authority’s goal is to provide water to Lower Valley residents living
Problems                    in about 137 colonias located within the Authority’s boundaries. The
                            Lower Valley comprisesan area of approximately 220 square miles in
                            the southeast section of El PasoCounty and runs from the eastern edge
                            of the city of El Pasosoutheast to the town of Tomillo about 26 miles
                            away and includes the city of Socorro.
                            In January 1989 the El PasoCity Council approved the purchase by the
                            Authority of 66 miles of water lines outside El Pasoand within the
                            Authority’s boundaries. The city also agreedto furnish treated drinking
                            water to the Authority. This approval representsthe first agreementby
                            the city and its water system manager,the Public Service Board, to
                            expand water service outside the city limits since 1979. The 66 miles of
                            water lines were in place before 1979 and currently serve about 3,000
                            In addition to providing the Authority with treated drinking water, the
                            city of El Pasois constructing a $26 million water treatment plant
                            within its city limits. This plant should provide an economicaland
                            nondepleting water supply to the Lower Valley and the city of El Paso.

                            Pye   84                                     GAO/RCED4lb7   Rw8l Development
                           As agreed,oncethe plant is completed, the Authority will be provided
                           with a dependablewater supply from the city.
                           Until the Public Service Board completesthe new water treatment plant
                           in 1992, the Authority can connect as many as 600 homes and busi-
                           nessesa year to the current system. However, as of January 30,1990,
                           the Authority has completed hookups to only 104 households.The
                           averagecost for a connection is about $1,200.
                           The Authority, with the help of a $600,000 low interest loan from The
                           Ford Foundation and a $600,090 line of credit from five Lower Valley
                           banks ($100,000 each), established a revolving loan fund in January
                           1990. Loans will be provided to residents of the Authori@ to help
                           finance the cost of the hookups and line extensions necessaryto provide
                           potable water.
                           However, according to the Authority’s Assistant General Manager, as of
                           February 14,1990, only 6 out of 100 applications have been approved,
                           and 4 have been denied by the Authority. An applicant must have $216
                           cash to cover the water connection fee. A loan of about $986 is then
                           made to the applicant to cover the average$1,200 cost for connection
                           and line extensions.

Local Efforts to Control   The El PasoCounty subdivision reguktions do not require that devel-
                           opers provide water and sewer facilities to subdivisions becausecounty
Colonia Development        officials do not believe they have the specific authority to do so. How-
                           ever, in July 1988 the El PasoCounty Lower Valley Water District
                           Authority-an authority independent of the county govemment-
                           adopted regulations governing the provision of water-related servicesto
                           new subdivisions within its boundaries. Thesemgulations require devel-
                           opers of any new subdivision to provide water servicesto the property
                           line of each lot. However, according to the Authority’s Assistant General
                           Manager,there are no requirements for developersto provide sewer
                           facilities to these subdivisions.

                            Under the Texas law effective in 1989, affected counties that include
                            economically distressed areas or that are adjacent to the Mexico border
                            and their political subdivisions are required to adopt state model rules
                            for new subdivisions, including providing adequatewater and sewer ser-
                            vices, in order to be eligible for state financial aid for water and sewer
                            projects. An attorney in the County Attorney’s Office believesthe new
                            law may not fully preclude the future development of colonias because

                            Page 25                                      GAo/Rcmbe1a7   Blud   Developmellt

the new law applies only to development of residential tracts of 1 acre
or less,so developersmay continue developing colonias with tracts ove1
1 acre.

 Page 16                                    QAO-147      hd    Developme:
Appendix II

State of New Mexico

                           Basedon our definition of colon& and information provided to us by
Colonias: Number,          New Mexico state and county officials, all of the New Mexico colonias
Location, and Water/       are reported to be located in one county-Dona Ana. Dona Ana has 15
Sewer Problems             colonias with about 14,600residents, including 12 colonias with access
                           to public water systems and 1 with accessto public sewer. The problems
                           with these systems will be discussedlater.

                           The state of New Mexico funds water system construction through its
State Efforts to           Rural Infrastructure Program. In addition, a revolving loan program
Address Colonias’          using federal and state funds is available for sewagetreatment facilities.
Water and Sewer            Both programs are administered by the New Mexico Surface Water
                           Bureau of the Environmental Improvement Division (EID) of the Health
Problems                   and Environment Department.

                           According to the Chief, Wastewater Construction section of the EID,
                           $6,034,600 in grants from a special state appropriation were provided to
                           six communities in Dona Ana County between 1988 and 1989. Four of
                           the six communities are colonias.
                           In addition, New Mexico political subdivisions or municipalities can
                           apply for Community Development Block Grant funds. The incorporated
                           areas can apply directly to the state council administering the CDEIG
                           funds, whereas the unincorporated areasmust apply through their
                           county government. Each incorporated area and county is limited to
                           submitting only one project funding request to the state council each

                           New Mexico has empowered counties to regulate subdivisions by
State Efforts to           adopting requirements for water, sewagedisposal, and roads. Thus,
Control Colonia            each county controls how much substandard development it will allow
Development                within its boundaries. The state requires that county regulations include
                           requirements for
                       .   sufficient water for subdivision use,
                       .   water of an acceptablequality,
                       .   liquid and solid waste disposal, and
                       .   sufficient and adequate roads.

                           Page a7                                       GAO/RCED4l37   h.ral   Development
Dona Ana County

Colonias: Number,           The Dona Ana County Hoard of County Commissionershas identified 16
                            colonias with about 21,600 residents in the county. However, the city of
Location, and Water/Sewer   Sunland Park did not meet our definition of a colonia becauseit is incor-
Problems                    porated. Thus, for our review, we excluded Sunland Park as a colonia,
                            leaving 16 subdivisions meeting our definition of a colonia having a total
                            of about 14,600 residents. Three of the 16 colonias have no accessto
                            public water and rely on individual water wells. The remaining 12
                            colonias have accessto a public water system provided by surrounding
                            municipalities or mutual domestic water consumersassociations;these
                            systems are in need of repair and/or upgrading.

                            According to a Dona Ana County Community ServicesAdministration’s
                            study, “Colonias: Conditions in Dona Ana County, New Mexico” (March
                            19&3),a fairly common alternative to an organized water system is the
                            drilhg of private wells. However, in a county with a median annual
                            family income of $12,000 (approximately $10,000 along the border), the
                            averagecost of $8,000 to drill a well is often prohibitive. According to
                            the New Mexico State Engineer’sOffice, District 3, several community
                            water well systems have poor quality water, insufficient pressure,water
                            rights ownership disputes, and/or suspectedwastewater contamination.
                            Figure II.1 shows the location of colonias in Dona Ana County.
                            The Hoard of County Commissionen included the unincorporated town
                            of Anthony as a subdivision in its list of the 16 colonias becauseof the
                            existence of substandard housing. Although Anthony has public water
                            and sewer systems,county officials believe that the water system is in
                            need of upgrading to bring it up to standards.

                            Most areas in the county are served by, or are within service areasof,
                            sevenregulated water utilities and several mutual domestic water con-
                            sumers associations.However, the existenceof these water supply ser-
                            vices doesnot preclude problems with water service and quality, and
                            economicfactors in colonias limiting the use of such services.

                            The Hoard of County Commissionersstated that Anthony is the only one
                            of the 16 colonias having accessto a public sewer system. Residentsin

                                                                          GAO/RCED-@l37   Rural Development
the remaining colonias use septic tanks and cesspoolsfor sewagedis-
posal. Suspectedgroundwater contamination related to the closeprox-
imity of water wells to septic tank leach fields ia a continuing problem in
all parts of the county.
Pigun 11.1:Colonir Locations in Dona AM County, New Mexico

                                                             GAODCED-81-81   Burd   Developrneni
Local Efforts to Address    According to the county’s March 1988 study, at the core of the colonia
                            problems is the strained economicbasein the county, which limits the
Colonias’ Water and Sewer   ability of residents to improve living conditions and the ability of the
Problems                    county to help correct such conditions.

                            Nevertheless,the county has funded projects to bring utilities to rural
                            communities. The county recently received state funding to study a
                            sewer system for one colon& Dona Ana.

                            Also, water has beenbrought to most areaain the county by the seven
                            regulated water utilities in the county and several mutual domestic
                            water consumersassociations.Many of these water systems are in need
                            of repair. According to the president of MoongateWater Company,
                            which has the largest service area of any public water company in the
                            state, the company has extended service in the last 6 years to approxi-
                            mately 60 people who previously had hauled water for domestic needs
                            over long distances.

Local Efforts to Control    Qma Ana county subdivision regulations require that subdivisions con-
Colonia Development         taining 100 parcels or more (any one of which is less than 10 acres) shall
                            be provided water from exi&ing or proposedwater supply systems.In
                            addition, developersplanning subdivisions of 6 to 100 parcels (any one
                            of which is less than 10 acres),or 6 or more parcels, each being 10 acres
                            or more, shall provide water supply for all except householduses.
                            Household water supply may be provided by the subdivider or by the
                            owner of each parcel at his own expense.Thus, generally, developers
                            who limit their subdivisions to lessthan 100 parcels are not required to
                            provide water to the residents.

                             Page 81
                      According to state and county officials, color&s are not known to exist
Colonias: Number,     in Arizona. However, the Managerof the State Office of Water Quality
Location and Water/   stated that somerural housing areas in Arizona have inadequate water
Sewer Problems        supplies becausedevelopershave found a way to circumvent state sub-
                      division regulations governing the provision of water services.This cir-
                      cumvention occurs when developerssplit land into three parcels, which
                      is the maximum split allowable without creating a subdivision; later,
                      each of these three parcels split into three, followed by possiblesubse-
                      quent splits until a housing development has beencreated. These
                      housing developments differ from colonias as defined in this study since
                      the state has sewagestandards that apply to all housing units, whether
                      in a subdivision or not; further, many of these housing developments
                       have adequate housing and roads compared with the many coloniasthat
                       do not.

                      According to this official, problems with water systemsin these housing
                      areas surfaced publicly becauseof resident complaints. Although legis-
                      lative proposals calling for the elimination of lot splitting have been
                      defeated, a current bill in the state legislature contains the same

                      This state official said that no state financial program exists to help
State Efforts to      counties and/or small water companieswith water and sewer projects.
Address Colonias’     He added that a state constitutional provision prohibits private or public
Water and Sewer       service corporations from receiving state or local government funds.
                      Bills have been introduced in the state legislature to set up a revolving
Problems              loan fund for water and sewer projects to include private or public ser-
                      vice corporations as recipients. These bills have not passedand he antic-
                      ipates no state financial aid for water projects in the near future.

                      State subdivision regulations require that developersprovide adequate
State Efforts to      water and sewer facilities to residents of subdivisions. The regulations
Control Colonia       define a subdivision as any improved or unimproved property that is
Development           divided for purposes of sale or leaseinto four or more lots or parcels
                      with each lot or parcel containing less that 36 acres.
                      In addition, the state subdivision regulations require that no subdivision
                      shall be sold or offered to the public in any manner, and no permanent
                      building shall be erected until the Arizona Department of Health Ser-
                      vices or its designatedrepresentative has approved plans and specifica-
                      tions for the water supply and sewageand garbagedisposal.

                       Page 22                                     GAO/RCED-2l-s?   wvlll   Development
Pima County

Colonias: Number,           According to the Community DevelopmentCoordinator, County Commu-
                            nity ServicesDepartment, no subdivisions in the county have inade
Location, and Water/Sewer   quate sewer and living conditions that would classify them as colonias.
Problems                    However, he estimates that about 17 rural subdivisions and/or develop
                            ments in the county, mostly of low- to moderate- income residents, have
                            no public water system and somehave no water system at all. The sub-
                            standard developments are located in the eastern part of the county
                            around the city of Tucson. Most of these rural subdivisions are provided
                            water by one of many small private water companiesthat have an inad-
                            equate water supply. Septic tanks are the primary meansof sewagedis-
                            posal in the unincorporated areas of the county, but these septic tanks
                            generally meet state standards.

Local Efforts to Address    According to the County Community DevelopmentCoordinator, Pima
                            County is using CDEG  funds to improve water and sewer facilities in
Water Problems              rural subdivisions. CDBG funds have beenused to help residents of rural
                            subdivisions that have no water system and those connectedto small
                            privately owned water companiesthat have been spawned by develop
                            ment of rural subdivisions and that are faced with inadequate or unsafe
                            water supplies. However, the coordinator stated that county block grant
                            funds are not sufficient to solve all the needsof these residents.

                            A Pima County Legi&tive lobbyist believesthat a state govemment-
                            funded loan program could be of major assistanceto the small water
                            companiesfor upgrading their water systems,but he believesthat such
                            a program is prohibited by state law.

Local Efforts to Control    Pima County subdivision regulations require developersto provide ade-
Colonia Development         quate water and sewer facilities to subdivision residents. Although, as
                            previously described,the regulations have a loophole whereby devel-
                            opers may circumvent the requirements and create housing develop
                            menta that are not subject to subdivision regulation, these developments
                            do not meet our definition of colonias generally becausethey are
                            required by state standards to have adequate sewer facilities.


                                                                        GAo/-BcED91-8?   BumI Devdopment
Appendix IV

State of Califomia

                            We visited California becauseof preliminary reports of the existenceof
Colonias: Number,           colonias. However, the Chief of the Southern California Region,Public
Location, and Water/        Water Supply Branch, California Department of Health Services,said
Sewer Problems              that to his knowledge no colonias, as we define them, exist in southern

                            According to this state official, California has very strict rural subdivi-
State Efforts to            sion regulations and rural zoning and planning ordinances that probably
Control Colonia             have prevented the creation of colonias such as those in Texas.

San Diego County

Colonias: Number,           According to the San Diego County project coordinator, Department of
Location, and Water/Sewer   Tram&order Affairs, no developmentslocated in the county meet our
                            defiition of colonias. However, he pointed out other serious problems
Problems                    with legal and illegal aliens who lack accessto affordable housing.
                            These people have resorted to building makeshift dwellings on the hill-
                            sides or any place that may give them temporary shelter. Theseshelters
                            are located in closeproximity to where the aliens work as farm laborers
                            or in the wholesale nursery business.

                            According to this county official, the situation is getting worse because
                            the number of aliens is increasing and the county doesnot have the
                            resourcesto provide affordable housing. Thus, the aliens are left to exist
                            in makeshift dwellings (or none at all) without potable water or sanita-
                            tion facilities, and they are often chasedfrom place to place by land-
                            owners under orders from the county health department.

Local Efforts to Control    The County Project Coordinator, Department of Transborder Affairs,
Colonia Development         credits strict state and county regulations, a vigorous monitoring and
                            enforcement program, and high land prices for the nonexistenceof
                            colonias in San Diego County. In addition, the state has very strict rural
                            zoning and planning ordinancesthat have beenadopted by San Diego
                            County. These regulations provide a sharp contrast to the generally
                            unregulated situation in Texas.

                            Page 34                                       GAO/RCED4197   Rural Developmen
Appendix V

Major Contributms to This Report

                          Edward Zadjura, Assistant Director
Resources,                JamesL. Hedrick, Assistant Director
Community, and            Monica L. Nickens, Information ProcessingAssistant
Development Division
Washington, D.C.
1Dallas Regional Office
                          Enrique E. Olivares, Evaluator-in-Charge
                          EnemencioS. Sanchez,Site Senior                      *2
                          Jocelyn R. Duran, Evaluator
                          Robert R. Summerhays,Evaluator

 (Ossosa)                  Page86
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