Twist the knob on the faucet; water rushes out. Seems simple, but before potable water reaches the consumer, it goes through a closely monitored process to ensure it’s safe for consumption.
The process of turning raw water from Belton Lake into potable water to deliver to Killeen residents is bound by a lengthy contract dating back to the mid-1950s.
The state owns all surface water in Texas waterways and holds the power to grant the rights to the use of it for various things — farming and ranching, municipal use, industrial and business or other public and private entities. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality is responsible for allocating surface water. According to the Brazos River Authority’s website, in 1929 the authority was created by the Texas Legislature to develop and manage water resources in the Brazos River Basin.
In 1952, in an effort to supply a growing Killeen with a sufficient water supply, Bell County Water Control and Improvement District No. 1 was developed.
Scott Osburn, Killeen public works director, said prior to the district’s existence, Fort Hood provided its own water. The city wanted to initiate a partnership with the installation but laws prohibited Fort Hood from contracting with Killeen for the service. In turn, the water district was formed soon after to act as an agent to Fort Hood and surrounding cities to provide water.
Killeen contracts all of its water through WCID No. 1, which in-turn contracts with the Brazos River Authority.
The district serves Fort Hood, Killeen, Copperas Cove, Harker Heights, Belton, Bell County WCID No. 3, 439 Water Supply Corporation and Belton Lake Outdoor Recreation Area at its 90-million gallon per day Belton Lake water treatment plant.
Through a signature on a dotted line, Killeen has an agreement with the district for about 40,000 acre-feet of raw water. An acre-foot is the equivalent to one acre of land covered with a foot of water in depth. Osburn said the district currently has the ability to treat 32 million gallons of water per day for the city’s use.
Osburn said the difference between what the city has in raw water and what it has in treatment capacity is based on “peak demand.”
“Over the course of the year, as far as demand, Killeen averages about 16 million gallons of water per day,” he said. “The highest peak that we have had is about 25.1 million gallons per day, which occurred earlier this summer.”
Before water comes out of a consumer’s tap, it goes through several closely monitored steps to be purified. The process begins in Belton Lake with an intake structure pulling raw water from the lake; it then flows through pipes to clarifiers. Once in the clarifiers, chemicals are added to the water. After being infused with chemicals to cleanse the water, it begins the “settling” phase.
“The raw water line pumps the water in; we shoot it with chemicals and a mixer makes sure that the chemicals are mixed really well,” said Jason Dominguez, chief plant operator at the Belton Lake water treatment plant. “Then paddles slowly agitate the water. As the water moves on, there are less and less paddles.”
Dominguez said the chemicals cause the turbidity in the water to form “flocks,” or what looks like particles clumped together.
Once the chemicals coagulate and the flocks form on the water, it goes through a pipe and into a stilling well, where the turbidity sinks to the bottom.
“The particles begin to sink and around the edges of the tank the top of the water is taken off because that’s the best-quality water,” he said.
The water then flows through another pipe and into filters.
Scott Tueck, assistant chief operator at the Belton Lake water treatment plant, said the filters “catch whatever is left in the water.”
“The filters take out whatever wasn’t taken out in the coagulations and settling process,” he said. “Once it goes through the filters, it’s extremely clean.”
After the water has gone through the filters, it’s pumped into a clear well and sent on to the consumer.
Killeen residents pay a base fee of $12.03 for their first 2,000 gallons of water in a month’s cycle. After using the initial 2,000 gallons, a $3 charge is tacked on for every additional 1,000 gallons up to 25,000 gallons. For more than 25,000 gallons, the fee increases to $3.58 per 1,000 gallons.
Temple, which has the rights to its water, unlike Killeen, assesses a $10 base fee for the first 2,000 gallons and $3.20 fee for every additional 1,000 gallons.
Osburn said when residents pay their water bills, that money goes to the city to pay the district and city water and sewer crews.
The city pays the district, in total, about $1.20 per 1,000 gallons of water, Osburn said.
Sixty-two cents of the $1.20 accounts for operational maintenance. The remaining 58 cents covers existing debt services held by the district and raw water costs.
Osburn said the city, like its residents, pays a monthly water bill.