Rural Development:

Problems and Progress of Colonia Subdivisions Near Mexico Border

RCED-91-37: Published: Nov 5, 1990. Publicly Released: Nov 26, 1990.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed information on nine counties in the four states bordering Mexico, focusing on the: (1) number, location, and water and sewer problems of colonias, generally characterized as unincorporated subdivisions featuring substandard housing, inadequate roads and drainage, and substandard water and sewer facilities; (2) state and local efforts to address water and sewer problems; and (3) state and local efforts to control further development of colonias.

GAO found that: (1) of the four states reviewed, only Texas and New Mexico reported the presence of colonias; (2) Texas reported 842 colonias with 198,000 residents and New Mexico reported 15 colonias with 14,600 residents; (3) in Texas, 60 percent of colonias visited had water supplies, but less than 1 percent had sewage systems, and in New Mexico, 80 percent of colonias visited had water and 7 percent had sewer systems; (4) within colonias with water systems, problems existed with the adequacy of the systems; (5) some New Mexico colonias' public water and sewer systems needed significant upgrades to bring them up to standards; (6) both Texas and New Mexico had programs available to fund water and sewer development; (7) municipal water suppliers and nonprofit water corporations extended public water to 60 percent of Texas colonias and 80 percent of New Mexico colonias, but no effort had been made to provide sewage facilities to colonias; (8) Texas passed legislation requiring political subdivisions in affected counties to adopt state model rules in order to become eligible for state financial aid for water and sewer facilities; (9) New Mexico empowered counties to require land developers to provide adequate water supply and sewage disposal facilities; and (10) although only two states had colonias as defined by GAO, all states reviewed had requirements to limit future development of colonias.

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