At the turn of the 20th century, Brownsville was lit by kerosene lamps while water was hauled in from the Rio Grande for all purposes. Community leaders knew that in order for Brownsville to prosper, they needed modern conveniences, including water and electric service. After being presented with a petition signed by 150 citizens, the City Council approved an election for a utility system in 1907. Local residents made their choice clear as they unanimously voted for the issuance of bonds to construct a local system that they would build, own, and manage themselves.
In this spirit, the utility system continued to develop and grow, gaining the attention of private companies that began to make offers for its purchase. After several attempts from these larger companies to acquire the system, Brownsville’s City Commission authorized a charter amendment election proposing the creation of a public utilities board in 1960.
A heated debate quickly ensued between groups in favor of and against the charter amendment. In the end, Brownsville residents voted for the amendment and the Brownsville Public Utilities Board was created. This was yet another official declaration of customer wishes to control and manage their own local utility. Decisions are made by a local board and city commission instead of outside interests, such as private companies.
After the creation of BPUB in 1960, the utility prepared to serve a city with a population of about 48,000 people. As such, it made significant investments to ensure reliable services in the decades that followed, including the construction of eight new substations, the doubling of capacity in potable water, and the completion of a wastewater treatment plant in what is now northeast Brownsville.
BPUB continued to grow along with the city’s population, and by the year 2000, the size of Brownsville had increased significantly, standing at about 143,000.
In 2009, BPUB was granted a $46 million American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) stimulus grant to upgrade much of the city’s wastewater infrastructure. Since then, BPUB has taken on several other large-scale projects that will help improve its service. Some of these include the FM 802-511 Colonia Wastewater Improvement Project, the Robindale Wastewater Plant expansion, the Resaca Restoration Project, the installment of a cross-Valley natural gas pipeline, and the recent Tenaska Brownsville Generating Station agreement in which BPUB will be entitled to 25% of the plant’s generation.
Brownsville citizens have a lot to be proud of, including their fierce determination to manage their own utilities destiny. BPUB is the only full-service citizen-owned utility left in the Rio Grande Valley. Because the Board of Directors has kept utility rates extremely competitive and employees take pride in making exceptional customer service and reliable utilities a core value, it is one of the best respected utilities in Texas.
Today, BPUB is the main provider of utility service in Brownsville and its 180,000 residents. Created and managed by the citizens of Brownsville, BPUB embodies the true spirit of a community-built and owned utility.