As Killeen approaches three important thresholds of water demand, city officials are weighing options for investing tens of millions of dollars in more treated water.
Unlike many Texas communities, Killeen has sufficient raw water to last for a long time — through 2060.
The water is purchased from the Brazos River Authority through the city’s sole water provider, Bell County Water Control and Improvement District No. 1.
Treatment of that water, however, at WCID-1’s only water treatment plant on Belton Lake will not meet the demand of the city’s projected growth in the near future.
The Belton Lake plant, which serves several entities, is expected to reach treatment capacity for Killeen — its largest customer — in the next three to six years or when Killeen’s population reaches 150,000.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Killeen’s population — currently around 132,000 — increases about 2 percent annually.
By 2020, Killeen’s annual water demand is projected to more than double, from the 12,882 acre feet used in 2000 to a projected 25,462 acre feet, according to the state water plan.
An acre foot is the amount of water necessary to fill one acre of land to one foot of depth.
The city’s rapid approach toward the treatment capacity threshold is indicated by a Texas Commission on Environmental Quality rule that limits the number of water taps the city can allow, based on its treatment capacity.
For Killeen, a city that builds around 1,000 new homes a year, only 2,538 available water taps remain, according to a presentation given by Mike Meadows, the city’s chief water engineer, in December.
Reportedly, that number is now closer to 2,000.
On Aug. 4, 2011 — during historic drought conditions — Killeen came within a few hundred thousand gallons of 85 percent of its water treatment capacity, setting off alarms for the city.
Meadows said that when the city reaches that 85 percent milestone, a plan to obtain more treatment capacity must be presented to TCEQ.
Based on current daily usage and summertime peaking factors, the city will reach that threshold this year.
‘All the options’
Killeen’s location, directly south of Fort Hood, means the city’s growth will only move closer to Stillhouse Hollow Lake to the south, although all of Killeen’s water is still piped in from Belton Lake in the north.
City officials agree that Stillhouse Hollow is the most logical location for a new water treatment source; however, WCID-1 — the city’s longtime water provider — does not have a plant on the lake.
A subcommittee made up of members of the Killeen City Council, city staff, the WCID-1 board and district staff are negotiating an option to contribute to a new WCID-1 water treatment plant on Stillhouse Hollow Lake.
Other options for obtaining more treated water would mean treating Killeen’s raw water at one of the two water supply corporation facilities already on the lake, Central Texas Water Supply and Kempner Water Supply Corporation.
Both entities have expressed interest in treating Killeen’s water.
In anticipation of Killeen’s need for more treated water, WCID-1 purchased land from the Kempner Water Supply Corporation on Stillhouse Hollow Lake in 2008.
The property is directly behind KWSC’s plant, the Clifford and Eldine Poe Regional Water Treatment Plant, which was completed in 2010 and constructed with room to bring on more major players, such as Killeen.
Mayor Dan Corbin serves on the Killeen water subcommittee currently in negotiations with WCID-1.
The mayor also has served on the city’s Water Sewer Drainage Committee since he was first elected to the council 10 years ago.
“We are considering all of our options,” Corbin said.
“The factors that we need to consider in making a decision are how it is going to affect our rate payers, the quality of service, along with the fiscal impact.”
Regional water source
In the past month, WCID-1 has formed agreements with other area cities, including Harker Heights and Copperas Cove, to share in the financing of a new treatment plant to provide those cities with more treated water.
Killeen — the largest city in Bell County — would be the major player in the deal, contributing between $31 million and $35 million — compared to the other cities, which would contribute about $8 million each. Belton will begin discussing the project this month.
Such costs are normally paid for by water customers through rate increases, which mean higher water bills.
Corbin said the committee is working on a plan that would not cost Killeen water customers more money.
“I think there is a potential that we could do this without an increase in our rates,” he said.
The water subcommittee is expected to meet this week for further negotiations over a potential deal with WCID-1.
If a deal is not made, Killeen’s other treatment options could lead the city into some murky legal waters.
The arrangement by which Killeen owns its water is different than in most cities its size.
The water that Killeen owns — expected to last for more than 50 years — is controlled through a 50-year-old contract with WCID-1.
Other large area cities, including Temple, Georgetown and Austin, control their own water through city-owned water companies.
That water independence gives those cities the flexibility to sell their water to other entities or leverage the holdings in bond agreements.
All the raw water in the Brazos River Basin, which includes Belton and Stillhouse Hollow lakes, is adjudicated to BRA by the state, which has first rights to all surface water in Texas.
BRA has said no new raw water is available to purchase.
If Killeen were to purchase treated water from the Kempner Water Supply Corporation or Central Texas Water Supply, the city would have to supply those companies with its own raw water, representatives from both entities said.
Treating the city’s water through a different water supply company — Kempner Water Supply Corporation or Central Texas Water Supply — could result in a breach of the WCID-1 contract.
WCID-1 has served as the city’s “agent” in purchasing water from the Brazos River Authority since the contract was signed in 1957.
The contract states that the city can purchase water from another source only “with written consent of the district,” and that consent, “shall be at the sole discretion of the district’s board of directors.”
As a result, the contract leaves some ambiguity over which entity actually owns the rights to Killeen’s water. Whether it is owned by Killeen residents or the city’s agent — WCID-1 — may become very important as the city weighs the options to best serve the future demand.