Construction of a controversial pipeline that would connect Belton Lake to Stillhouse Hollow Lake is scheduled to begin in 2025, a Brazos River Authority official told Killeen City Council members on Tuesday.
“This pipeline is going to operate relatively infrequently,” said Brad Brunett, regional manager of central and lower basins for the Brazos River Authority, a state organization that regulates surface water. “These reservoirs, a lot of years, there’s so much flowing through Stillhouse Hollow ... to take care of all the customers there probably for multiple years if we could retain that water.”
But that’s not the organization’s intent in building the pipeline.
“It’s meant for flood control, and that water’s got to be slowly released,” Brunett said. “Most years, Stillhouse Hollow is going to be capable of taking care of the contracts there without pumping from this pipeline. But the pipeline would be needed in the really dry years in order to have reliable supplies at Stillhouse Hollow.”
According to the National Weather Service, the driest year on record for Killeen was 1954, when just 12.48 inches rain fell. The wettest year was 1957, when Killeen got 46.08 inches.
The hottest day of 2022 was July 10, when the high reached 107. And the wettest month was November, when 4.02 inches of rain fell.
Sarah Barnes, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Fort Worth, has told the Herald that La Nina conditions, which result in dry air and less rain — and was the most prevalent throughout the year in 2022 — may end in a couple of months.
“It’s going to be a 48-inch diameter pipeline,” Brunett said of the pipeline from Belton to Stillhouse. “There really wouldn’t be any visual signs of the pipeline between the two lakes. For the most part, all the infrastructure will be under the ground.”
Created by the Texas Legislature in 1929, the Brazos River Authority — named for the river whose watershed extends from New Mexico to the Gulf of Mexico.
“The Brazos River draw lies approximately 50 miles west of the Texas-New Mexico state line, beginning a watershed that stretches 1,050 miles and comprises 45,510 square miles — 42,830 of which are in Texas,” according to the agency’s website. “Texas compromises 94% of the watershed, while only 6% is located in New Mexico.”
The board is comprised of 21 representatives, including Dr. Austin Ruiz of Killeen, appointed by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott.
“We’re self-funded, so we’re different from your typical state-type agency in that we don’t receive any tax dollars from the state or federal government,” Brunett said. “All of the revenue that we operate from comes from the water that we supply and also the water and wastewater treatment services that we provide.”
The Brazos River Authority supplies water to several municipalities, water-supply districts, steam-electric power plants and industrial and agricultural customers.
“We also own and operate water and wastewater treatment facilities at various locations across the river basin,” Brunett said. “Here, locally, we operate one wastewater treatment plant for the cities of Temple and Belton. It’s a jointly-owned facility called the Temple-Belton Regional Wastewater Plant and then another facility that’s owned by the city of Temple that’s called the Dosher Farm Wastewater Plant.”
‘Form the backbone’
The Brazos River Authority draws water from 12 reservoirs, including Stillhouse Hollow and Belton lakes.
They “form the backbone of our water-supply system ... all the way from Abilene down to the coast,” Brunett said. “Three of those are Brazos River Authority reservoirs that we built and operate.”
In 2021, NRG Energy was the agency’s top customer, Brunett said.
“This is the top 10 customers that we have in terms of the amount of water that’s contracted,” he said. “When we talk about water contracting in the lakes, we use a term called ‘acre foot.’ About 326,000 gallons are enough to cover a football field a foot deep. NRG Energy is the largest in terms of the water they contract.”
That’s about 150,000 acre feet of water each year.
“We’ve got about 124,000 acre feet of water that’s contracted to those two lakes — Belton and Stillhouse Hollow,” Brunett said. “A lot of folks don’t know that all the surrounding counties around Bell County also receive water from these reservoirs in smaller amounts. We’ve got a higher demand on Stillhouse Hollow than what we have on Belton, just in terms of its size versus its contracts.”
But no other contracts can be issued, Brunett said.
On the proposed pipeline project, “we’ve been trying to inform folks about that,” he said. “We’re not going to issuing any more water contracts. All the contracts we have in place for water rights now have been in place for 15 years or longer. And we haven’t been able to write any new water contracts, frankly because the amount of reliable water supply from those reservoirs is fully contracted. This pipeline project that we’re talking about is going to help us supply water under those contracts that have been in place for many years.”
The pipeline project is controversial as some see the proposal as another way for Williamson County to take water that belongs to Bell County. Fast-growing Georgetown already controls the Chisholm Trail Special Utility District, which borders Killeen in southern Bell County.
“It’s really not good,” Tommy Westmoreland, a Morgan’s Point Resort, told FME News Service in September during a meeting about the pipeline. “It’s going to steal water from the Temple and Belton area to supply Round Rock.”
Called the Bellhouse Drought Preparedness Project, an intake structure will be built at Belton Lake.
“There would be a pipeline from that pump station over to Stillhouse Hollow and then a discharge structure at Stillhouse Hollow,” Brunett said. “We looked at a number of different routes for the pipeline leading from Lake Belton to Stillhouse Hollow. and we ultimately arrived at Route 6. That’s the alignment that seems to make the most sense, given all the factors we looked at.”
Those include local development, land acquisition impact, coordination with and approval of the U.S. Corps of Engineers, right-of-way access, cost, construction impact, topography and maintenance access.
Route 6 extends north near or along North Wheat Road in Belton to South Wheat Road before turning west along Auction Barn Road and ending there.
“The project will also support areas served by the Central Texas Water Supply Corporation, communities served by the Bell County WCID No. 1, the cities of Georgetown and Round Rock, the Brushy Creek Municipal Utility District, and other water suppliers at Stillhouse Hollow Lake,” FME News Service reported in September.
Construction is expected to continue for up to 10 years.
“I just want to thank you for the presentation,” Killeen Councilman Michael Boyd said Tuesday. “I was at the public-input forum that you guys did at the Expo Center during that period of time, and there was a lot of assumptions about this project and how it could affect neighboring municipalities. But that was cleared up.”
That event was in September at the Bell County Expo Center in Belton.
“Let’s say those bodies of water get too low,” Councilman Riakos Adams said. “Is there a plan by Brazos River Authority to refill them in case there’s an issue, like when we’re in drought conditions?”
Brunett said “other alternatives” are being considered.
“Hopefully, we’re never in a scenario these lakes get that low on water,” he said.
‘An excellent plan’
Mayor Debbie Nash-King said the pipeline is “something that we need.”
“In case of a drought, you never know, and we don’t want to have to limit our residents on how much water they can use,” she said. “This plan will benefit everyone ... as long as the cost is not that high. I think it’s an excellent plan, in all fairness.”
In the late 1990s, the Texas State Water Plan identified Bell County and Williamson County — particularly along the I-35 corridor — as two areas that could experience water supply shortages in the next three decades, FMS News Service reported.