Williamson County begins studying area’s future water supply needs

Williamson County begins studying area’s future water supply needsEven though Central Texas saw an abundance of rain in 2015 that pushed the area out of drought status, some Williamson County leaders are saying now is the time to plan for future water sources.

Williamson County has been drought-free since October, according to the Office of the Texas State Climatologist. In 2015 parts of the county experienced an extra 2-12 inches of rain, or 110-125 percent above normal rainwater levels, according to the National Weather Service.

After an influx of rain it can be difficult to get people to focus on water, said Jim Briggs, the general manager for utilities in Georgetown.

“Because it’s wet, it’s more than likely there is less pressure to look at water,” he said. “But the time to deal with water issues and look for water and evaluate options and secure those options is when you don’t need it.”

In December the Williamson County Commissioners Court decided to not take action on a plan that aimed to obtain groundwater from aquifers that lie east of the county and pipe it to storage areas in Williamson County. The plan’s presentation did, however, spur discussions on developing a plan that will determine the sources of water in Williamson County and look at future options that would meet water needs, and Williamson County Judge Dan Gattis said officials will be focusing on water this year.

Williamson County begins studying area’s future water supply needs“I think [water] is a top issue; 2016 will be a major year trying to put a [water] plan together,” Gattis said.

Brazos G plan

Although Williamson County is not a water provider, the county aims to act as a facilitator to determine what the water needs are for the different cities and water users in the region, Precinct 3 Commissioner Valerie Covey said.

One resource the county plans to use is the 2016 Brazos G Regional Water Plan, which was developed by the Brazos G region of the Texas Water Development Board. The plan runs from 2020 to 2070 and looks at the current water supply and future water demands in the 36 counties that make up the region. It also lists future options that can be started now, said Gary Newman, who represents Williamson County on the Brazos G board.

The 2016 plan was released in December and sent to TWDB officials, who could review and approve the plan around May, Newman said.

“From the needs and supply, we come up with strategies to meet those needs,” he said. “That’s the most important part of the 50-year study—how we’re trying to meet those needs.”

According to the Brazos G plan, the amount of water needed by water users in its region currently falls below the amount of water that is supplied, though the regional water group is predicting that to change with an increase in population. The county could start to see water issues in 2030, with cities such as Georgetown, Hutto, Leander and Round Rock growing the fastest, Newman said.

According to data from the U.S. Census Bureau most recently updated in 2014, the population in Williamson County was nearing 500,000. By 2070, Newman estimates the county population to reach 1.5 million, and the Brazos G board predicts the need for water in the county to have risen higher than the available supply.

Water options

The plan lists some possible options to meet those future water needs. One strategy is to utilize water from the Highland Lakes system and pipe it to different areas in the county. Another is to utilize Trinity Aquifer wells to keep Lake Granger wells full during times of drought, Newman said.

The plan also lists looking at the Carrizo-Wilcox aquifer in East Texas to see if groundwater is still available, but that option can be tricky since water rights typically exist for river and groundwater supply. However, these options would only meet short-term water needs, Newman said.

Some other alternatives include reducing the amount of water consumption in households, which Newman said would be a key strategy for the county. Other options include building an off-channel reservoir that would act as a storage tank by Lake Whitney in Bosque and Hill counties, which would pump water from Lake Granger into an aquifer during times of heavy rain. Diverting parts of the San Gabriel River into Lake Georgetown would also provide water for both Georgetown and Round Rock.

Some of these options can be expensive, Newman said. Building off-channel reservoirs can cost more than $100 million and can take several years to be permitted and built.

“That’s one reason we do 50-year plans, because some of these [options] may not come to supply water for 30 or 40 years,” he said.

One strategy for Georgetown includes increasing treatment plant capacity so the city can turn more raw water into potable water, Newman said. This is an option that was recently presented to the Georgetown Utility System Advisory Board, Briggs said.

He said the city currently has 43 million gallons of capacity in its three treatment plants, and last year Georgetown Utility Systems utilized 37 million gallons of capacity to treat water. Because of the city’s population growth, and because the city recently absorbed the Chisholm Trail Special Utility District, Briggs said he expects the treatment plants will need to expand over the next few years.

“We don’t need any more right now, but as we incrementally pick up a little bit [of residents] each year we grow, we’re going to need to add plants or add treatment capacity,” he said.

Williamson County plan

Although the Brazos G plan covers the sources of water and lists future water options in Williamson County, Landy Warren, the president of the Lone Star Regional Water Authority in Jarrell, said it can sometimes be difficult to get different cities and municipalities to agree on some of the data presented in the regional plan. Williamson County leaders hope to create a plan for the county with participation from area cities and water municipalities.

Warren said nearly all cities and municipal utility districts currently purchase and distribute water individually. He is hoping the water users can come together and devise a regional plan that would allow each group to share the cost.

“If we could come up with regional plan through bulk purchasing power and splitting of costs, we could provide the amount of water necessary to take care of Williamson County in 10, 15, 20, 40 [or] 50 years,” he said. “We believe a regional plan would be cheaper than a whole bunch of individual plans, but we need a study to determine that.”

Covey agreed that a regional plan is a possible option, but said such a plan is an ongoing subject that will take time, numerous discussions and possibly legislative action to address water needs at a state level. For now, county leaders are focused on meeting with the different entities throughout the county that sell water.

“Looking at what the need is and what the water sources are is key to moving forward, and we’re concerned about the whole county and how future water issues will be addressed,” she said. “I think we’re going to continue having this dialogue, because I think it’s important for the future build-out of the county.”

The Brazos G board is also looking into completing an enhanced study on Williamson County, Newman said. He said he hopes the county and the cities can work together on the countywide plan.

The city of Georgetown will also continue looking at water this year—Briggs said he presented a water demand strategy to the Georgetown Utility System Advisory Board in January, and the same presentation will be given before City Council on Feb. 23.

“We finished 2015 with conversations relative to short-term, intermediate and long-term strategies on what we do on water, and [implementing those conversations] is exactly what we’ve started doing in 2016,” he said.

Editor's note: This story was updated Feb. 19 to reflect the correct acronym for the Texas Water Development Board.

By Caitlin Perrone
Caitlin covers Cedar Park and Leander city councils and reports on education, transportation, government and business news. She is an alumnus of The University of Texas at Austin. Most recently, Caitlin produced a large-scale investigative project with The Dallas Morning News and led education coverage in the Brazos Valley at The Bryan-College Station Eagle. After interning with Community Impact Newspaper for two summers, she joined the staff as a reporter in 2015.


Travis County has added 3,069 new confirmed cases over the past week from July 6-12. (Community Impact Staff)
Travis County adds 3,069 new coronavirus cases over past week

Travis County has added 3,069 new confirmed cases over the past week from July 6-12.

A sign directs voters inside Ridgetop Elementary School in North Central Austin. (Jack Flagler/Community Impact Newspaper)
11.8% of voters in Travis County have voted early since June 29, exceeding 2018 primary numbers

More than 97,000 Travis County residents have voted in person or by mail. The turnout far surpassed the combined early and Election Day totals in the 2018 primary run-off election.

A photo of the potential Tesla property
Travis County updates Tesla incentive package, pushing for $1 billion-plus investment from the company

Poised for a possible July 13 vote, Travis County has released a refined incentives structure proposal with electric carmaker Tesla.

The Williamson County and Cities Health District confirmed 37 additional coronavirus cases July 10, bringing the total to 3,654. (Community Impact Staff)
37 new cases of coronavirus, 1 death confirmed in Williamson County on July 10

Currently, 103 patients are hospitalized, 32 are in intensive care and 16 are on a ventilator.

The species that tested positive for West Nile Virus is Culex quinquefasciatus, or the southern house mosquito. This species has a flight range of about one mile. ​(Courtesy Adobe Stock)
Mosquitoes test positive for West Nile Virus near southwest Williamson County Regional Park

There have been no reported human cases of West Nile Virus in Williamson County since 2017.

Williamson County sees 844 new coronavirus cases this week

Between July 4 and July 10, Williamson County also reported 9 additional deaths.

Texas Commissioner of Education Mike Morath announced in a June 30 State Board of Education meeting that students will be taking the STAAR in the 2020-21 school year. (Courtesy Pixabay)
Education organizations call for STAAR requirements to be waived another year

Gov. Greg Abbott waived the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness, or STAAR, testing requirements in March of earlier this year in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

With a clinical background in internal, pulmonary and critical care medicine, Corry has been with BCM for 20 years. He now focuses primarily on inflammatory lung diseases, such as asthma and smoking-related chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases. (Graphic by Ronald Winters/Community Impact Newspaper)
Q&A: Baylor College of Medicine's Dr. David Corry discusses immunity, vaccine production amid COVID-19 pandemic

Rapid development and distribution of a vaccine worldwide and successful achievement of herd immunity will be key players in determining the lifespan of the COVID-19 pandemic, said Dr. David Corry, a professor of Medicine in the Immunology, Allergy and Rheumatology Section at Baylor College of Medicine.

The new partnership will provide on-site, same-day testing and results for assisted-living facility staff and their residents. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
State announces partnership for increased COVID-19 testing for patients, staff at assisted-living facilities, nursing homes

These test sites will help the state work toward the goal of processing up to 100,000 tests in the first month.

DATA: Leander sales tax revenue jumped 40% in May; Cedar Park stayed steady

Leander sales tax revenue spiked 40% in May 2020 compared to May 2019 data.

Cedar Park OKs $61.5M in 3 ordinances for bonds, certificates of obligation

The bonds and certificates of obligation will fund the planned library, parks, street improvements, drainage projects and the Brushy Creek wastewater plant expansion.