The Brownsville Public Utilities Board, city, state and federal officials on Wednesday ceremonially marked the completion of a $29.7 million wastewater collection system that connected 2,200 southeastern Brownsville residents to the city’s sewer system for the first time.

Repeatedly during a press conference and ribbon-cutting ceremony at BPUB headquarters people involved in the project noted that it takes not being connected to sanitary sewer services to truly understand what living under such conditions is like.

The project started in about 2002 and came to be dubbed the FM 511/802 Sanitary Sewer Projects. Homes in the project area, the FM 511 and FM 802 colonias, previously had relied on septic tanks.

“I’m very, very happy,” one of those residents, Patricia Matamoros, said. “Now we have sewer. Now we can flush the toilet all the time.” Before there was constant worry that the toilet would overflow, and when it rained, that septic effluent would get mixed in with storm runoff, she said.

“When you eliminate all the septic tanks you eliminate all the water pollution and the potential for disease,” Brownsville Mayor Tony Martinez said. But he added, “These things don’t just happen.”

BPUB Chairman Martin Arambula said funding for the project came from a $24.5 million Texas Water Development Board grant, an $840,000 TWDB loan, $768,511 in BPUB equity, and $3.63 million from the Environmental Protection Agency through the Border Environmental Infrastructure Fund, which is administered by the North American Development Bank.

The project involved construction of seven new lift stations, rehabilitation of three others and installation of approximately 25.6 miles of sewer line funded by the TWDB and BPUB, officials said. The new system is now collecting an estimated 175,720 gallons a day of sewage that is being conveyed to the South Wastewater Treatment Plant.

U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela, D-Brownsville, said when he’s at BPUB offices he often feels his mother Blanca Sanchez Vela staring down at him, even more so this time. Blanca Vela was the BPUB chairwoman when the FM 511/802 sewer project started, he said.

Vela said the project is an example of the cooperation required to get things done and the success border communities are having in doing so.

“The message that I’d like to deliver to Texas is about us,” he said. “There’s a whole lot more about the border than what you see on CNN. My role as one of 435 members of Congress is to make sure these agencies have the funds they need to do these types of projects.”

Arambula reminded all stakeholders that wastewater is all around them, from the shower drain to the water that runs off wet roads. He said thanks to this project and others like it “the water you drink and shower in is filtered and treated to remove any contaminants like sewage or chemicals.”