Central Texas is poised for expansive population growth in the next 50 years, and — two years after the worst drought in the state’s history — uncertainty remains over where future Texans will get water.
This year, projects designed to help Texas maximize the use of its water resources have found much political will in Austin.
Legislators have underscored funding the state’s water plan, which details $53 billion in infrastructure projects.
Three of the projects call for new infrastructure in the Killeen-Fort Hood area, including a wastewater reuse plan for Killeen, a pipeline between Belton and Stillhouse Hollow lakes, and a new reservoir in Coryell County.
Last week, state Sen. Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay, testified in a public hearing over his Senate Bill 4, which proposes creating a revolving fund of $2 billion from the state’s rainy-day fund to lend to local entities for water projects.
“The population is projected to double within the next 50 years, and when those people get up in the morning, they’re going to want to see water coming out of their tap,” Fraser said.
“Our plan for this bridge funding will offer local entities more money to get their projects off the ground.”
Supply and demand
The majority of the water Texans consume is surface water, which includes lakes, reservoirs and rivers.
Water resources are crucial for bringing jobs and revenue into local economies, said John Crutchfield, president of the Greater Killeen Chamber of Commerce.
“We hear it a lot from interested parties because we are in a drought part of the world,” Crutchfield said.
“As a community you’ve got to plan for it before you need it.”
The Killeen population is currently about 132,000, and the city experiences about 2 percent growth, or about 1,000 homes, each year.
Killeen’s population is expected to reach 184,000 by 2060, a projected 62 percent growth over 50 years, according to the state water plan.
Water planning must look at long-term growth because water infrastructure improvements can take decades to complete, said Brad Brunett, water services manager at the Brazos River Authority.
BRA is a state organization that sells water rights from lakes and reservoirs in the Brazos River Basin, including Belton Lake, Stillhouse Hollow Lake and Lake Georgetown.
“As population continues to grow and we continue to use what we have, if we don’t build new projects and learn to use what we have more wisely, (water shortage) is a possibility,” Brunett said.
The Brazos River Authority plans to fund a $36 million pipeline, the Bell-House Pipeline, to carry water from Belton Lake to Stillhouse Hollow Lake. The project is planned to start between 2020 to 2030.
Brunett said Bell-House will help the Brazos River Authority serve customers closer to areas where the water is most needed.
All of Killeen’s tap water currently comes from Belton Lake, but the city is negotiating a plan to start using water from Stillhouse Hollow, where much of the city’s growth is headed.
“We have a handful of customers that, looking at their future growth, it makes more sense to divert their water out of Stillhouse Hollow as opposed to moving it all the way from Belton (Lake),” Brunett said.
A pipeline already exists between Stillhouse Hollow and Lake Georgetown, but — despite rumors — there is no plan to expand that pipe, Brunett said.
According to the state water plan, the Bell-House pipeline “will allow BRA to operate these three lakes as a system.”
Brunett said there are limits to the system, which would allow the Brazos River Authority to move only 7 percent of Belton Lake’s total capacity each year and only when necessary.
“Once it is built, it is not that there is going to be a continuous flow of water from one to the other,” Brunett said. “It basically gives us flexibility to move water there if we need to.”
Potentially, water from the well-stocked Belton Lake could make it down to customers in Georgetown; however, the Brazos River Authority is not issuing more contracts for that water, Brunett said.
“As those customers grow, just as Killeen is growing, their demands are going to increase as well, but (the growth) is not going to be from new contracts or new pipelines,” Brunett said.
One solution to a potential fresh water shortage is to use less of it.
Reverting nonpotable treated wastewater from Killeen’s wastewater plant could be a successful conservation tool that will save the city water and money in the long run. Plans are already being hatched to reuse some of the treated wastewater coming out of the Bell County Water Control and Improvement District No. 1 wastewater treatment plant on 38th Street.
Killeen plans to use the cheaper nonpotable water to irrigate the city’s municipal parks, cemeteries, the University of Texas A&M-Central Texas campus and the municipal Stonetree Golf Course — all of which currently use regular tap water for landscaping.
Last week, discussions between city and water district officials moved forward with the first step of the plan to deliver the treated wastewater to the city golf course.
During dry months, the municipal golf course can use up to 15 million gallons of water a month, according to previous reports.
Killeen Mayor Dan Corbin said the staff should have a proposal in four to six weeks, and reused water could arrive at Stonetree in early 2014.
“It looks like that is something we are going to be able to do and it is going to save us a lot,” he said.
Higher water rates
Water projects that require the most long-term planning and investment are water reservoirs.
The state water plan details a new reservoir, the Coryell County Off-Channel Reservoir, planned for the western corner of the county.
According to the plan, the reservoir is relatively small — 3,365 acre-feet — and would cost $37.4 million. No entity has stepped in to fund the project, Brunett said.
“That’s the thing about water projects, is they’ve got to be paid for at some level,” Brunett said.
An under-emphasized part of recent water talks has been the mention of how the projects are ultimately paid for, said Kate Galbraith, who reports on water issues for the Texas Tribune.
When a local entity, such as water district No. 1, builds new water infrastructure, the cost is transferred to the water consumers through higher water rates.
Even if the state is able to offer loans for water projects at low interest rates, it is ultimately up to the rate payers and local governments to pay for the projects, Galbraith said.
“Local governments will have to put up a lot of the money,” Galbraith said.
“What that means for water rates will then become a different issue.”