Billie Jo Tennill Served Her Community for Half a Century

April 5, 2021

Remembering a Coastal Bend Leader

It was her first meeting as a member of the board of directors of the San Patricio Municipal Water District in 1974 and Billie Jo Tennill was already in the thick of regional water supply issues. 

There was a discussion of the Choke Canyon Dam project which was finally moving toward congressional approval.  It would be four more years before construction began. 

On that first day on the job Billie Jo jumped in to second a motion for the Water District to join in the eventually successful fight against a proposed hazardous waste landfill in Live Oak County that would have threaten Lake Corpus Christi and the region’s drinking water.

For the next 47 years Billie Jo Tennill was a force in growing and protecting regional water resources as a District board member.  She died at age 85 on April 1st after serving the past 17 years as president of the Water District board.  Those who knew and worked with her are remembering a special friend.

Odem City Secretary

She was a lifelong resident of Odem and after high school started a 57-year career working for the City of Odem.  She ultimately became City Secretary and simultaneously acted as city water superintendent, solid waste manager and wastewater superintendent.

Jim Naismith, retired SPMWD general manager and engineer, knew Billie Jo for 55 years.  “She was the ideal public employee – dedicated, thoughtful, sensitive to spending public money and persistent with her ‘let’s get the job done’ approach,” he recalled.  “She was a dear friend.”

Brian Williams, current Water District general manager, also made that point.  “Billie Jo was a terrific person, a great leader in South Texas and a true friend.  She took part in growing the District more than 700% during her tenure.  Her many years of service to the District will always be remembered,” he said.

The Water District is a contract partner with the City of Corpus Christi in developing reliable regional water supplies.  Choke Canyon Reservoir was not the only big deal completed during Billie Jo's years as a regional leader on water issues.  It was followed by Lake Texana, the Mary Rhodes Pipeline, acquisition of the Garwood water rights, construction of Phase 2 of the pipeline, investigation of groundwater resources and planning for future seawater desalination.

During Billie Jo’s tenure on the board the Water District expanded the original water treatment Plant A (1983), constructed an industrial water treatment plant (1989), completed major pipeline system additions, added a 38-acre water reservoir, and built and expanded Plant C, a modern microfiltration treatment plant (2000).

And on the same day that Billie Jo died, the Water District started up operation of a $50 million, 48-inch pipeline to deliver an additional 25 million gallons per day of treated water from Corpus Christi to San Patricio County.