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 RURAL DEVELOPMENT Problems and Progress of Colonia Subdivisions Near Mexico Border .-, .., <;AO/‘R(‘ED-9 l-37 . united states GAO General Accounting OiTl’ice Washington, D.C.20648 Resources, community, and Economic Development Division B-240766 November5,199O 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 provided. 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 boundaries. . Page a GAO/RCEDBlS7 Rural Development Ea4o796 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 substandard). 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 sions, 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 each. 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 Contmts Letter Appendix1 10 StateofTexas Colonias: Number, Location, and Water/ SewerProblems 10 State Efforts to Address Colonias’ Water and Sewer 11 Problems 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 Problems 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 Problems 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 Contents 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 Mexico Abbreviations 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 ho@wa % 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 facilities. 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 disposal. 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 regulations. 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. Starrcounty 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 0 k l 0 0 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 3 a. a. - 0 0. 0. * a. Repubik of Maxloo % 0 0. 0 l .“@@@ l . 0.0 +. : ‘p l . 0.. .: \ -4 . r a.-. : : 0 a. 0 0.: 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 customers. 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 ~- -1 StuaofTcau 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 year. 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 proposal. 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. l 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 California. 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. Development 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 Economic 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 Ordt~ring 1nformat ion ‘l’htb first fivtb twpit*s of each GAO report are free. Additional copies art’ $2 each. Orders should he stbn1 to the following addrt~ss, accompanit4 114;L check or money order made out to I he Srrpt~ritrttbndt~nt of Documt~nts. when nwt~ssary. Orders for 100 or mow copies to bta mailt4 to a single address are distwuntt4 25 pt*rwnt. I’.% Gtaneral Acwunting Offiw P. 0. Box 60 1.5 Gaithtbrshurg, MD 2OH77
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)