Water is a hot topic in Central Texas communities, and Harker Heights is no exception. At a recent workshop, the council members learned that they have some important decisions to make in the next year about the water supply — either take steps to cut back on water usage in the city or buy more water later to accommodate the growing population of Harker Heights.
“The decisions aren’t today, but with the raw water it will probably be around 2014 that it might be available, and at that point we will have to make a decision,” City Manager Steve Carpenter said.
Public Works Director Mark Hyde gave the council an update on past, present and future water usage. He said the drought of 2011 gave them an idea of how much water they would need to accommodate the projected build-out population of the city, under similar drought conditions.
“At the peak of the 2011 drought, the city of Harker Heights with a 27,500 population used 5,742 acre-feet of raw water,” Hyde said. “Assuming our city has the same residential and commercial water use demographics at our projected build out population of 48,000, the raw water requirement would be 10,032 acre-feet for the same 2011 drought period.”
Through contracts with Bell County Water Control and Improvement District No. 1 and the Brazos River Authority System, the city has access to approximately 8,800 acre feet of raw water.
The WCID No. 1 contract is for 5,265 acre-feet of water in Belton Lake at a maximum rate of $26.40 per unit, while the BRA contract, for 3,235 acre-feet in Belton Lake and 300 acre feet in Stillhouse Hollow Lake, has a much higher rate of $62.50 per unit. BRA water is only used if the city exceeds its contracted amount with WCID No. 1.
Hyde said the city has several options available, including purchasing more BRA system raw water. However, that option comes at a price.
“That cost would be reflected in increased water rates for everyone,” Hyde said.
An escalating water rate system that charges customers according to usage is another option. The system is used by Dallas and only affects high water users.
“I think the key there is if you use it, you’re going to pay for it,” City Manager Steve Carpenter said. “Right now it’s flat, everybody pays whether it’s commercial or residential.”
Reducing the daily use of raw water through enforced conservation measures and city ordinances is yet another option.
Carpenter said if the city conserves 1 percent of its water usage per year, in 10 years it will have saved enough to close the gap between the population growth and available water.
The city is faced with the same problems with its available supply of treated water and must make the decision to either purchase more water, conserve water or implement a combination of both.