Officials of the West Travis County Public Utility Agency, which services Bee Cave, Travis County Municipal Utility District No. 5 and parts of Hays County with water and wastewater, said it has exceeded, at least on paper, its service capacity.

“We are oversubscribed from a paper commitment standpoint,” District Engineer Curtis Wilson told WTCPUA directors during the agency’s Sept. 15 meeting in Bee Cave.

Service for new developments

Once a developer seeks to create a project, he or she files a service extension request, or SER, asking the WTCPUA to commit to provide water and wastewater service, said WTCPUA General Manager Robert Pugh, who took over management of the agency Aug. 15. A preliminary finding of water and wastewater capacity is issued by the agency in living unit equivalents, with the number of LUEs issued based on the project’s density, Pugh said.

The WTCPUA then issues a service agreement to the applicant outlining the service terms and a four-year expiration date within which the developer must install all of the issued LUEs, he said.  The developer pays reservation fees for the LUEs issued until service is activated whereupon he or she switches to paying impact fees for the installed meters, he said.

Some developers have been granted LUEs that are not being fully used until all or additional phases of the project are developed—sometimes spanning years, Pugh said.

In 2012, the WTCPUA was formed and acquired  the contracts the Lower Colorado River Authority had within its service area.

“The developer agreements we inherited from LCRA have no expiration dates,” Pugh said. “All [WTCPUA contracts] come with four-year expiration dates.”

However, at least one service agreement—the March 19, 2015, contract for the multi-phase Masonwood West/Hatchett tract development—provides a 20-year expiration date, over Pugh’s stated four-year limit. The project originally included more than 1,800 homes.

Capacity challenges

The process—committing to providing LUEs that are not being used for a project under development but reserved for years ahead—ties up the utility’s available water and wastewater supply on paper, Pugh said.

“Right now we have 1 million gallons [of wastewater capacity daily] available, and we are subscribed at 1.2 million [gallons daily],” said Mike Murphy, Bee Cave’s appointee to the WTCPUA board, at its Sept. 15 meeting. “We’ve already told people they are going to have to wait until our permit gets changed and we have the ability to provide the service above what we have now.”

CCNG Realty, a development group seeking to construct a planned development district on a 70-acre tract along West Hwy. 71 across from the H-E-B, was issued 750 LUEs in August by the WTCPUA to accommodate its proposed 1,200 apartments and 450,000 square feet of office space.

Because the CCNG development falls under a separate service agreement made in 1999 with the LCRA, CCNG does not have to pay reservation fees to hold LUEs for its project, said  Director Bill Goodwin, who is also Bee Cave’s mayor pro tem. Additionally, the CCNG agreement does not have a limit to the wastewater capacity the project can take other than providing for the disposal of treated effluent onto CCNG’s property, he said.

CCNG President Will Douglas said he disagrees with limiting the length of time he has to use the project’s LUEs or being forced to later request LUEs that may or may not be available to finish the project.

“I don’t want to get in a hurry to go develop something just so I have LUEs versus let’s reserve [LUEs] for this [project],” he said. “Let’s make sure the market’s going to absorb [the project]. I think doing a patient development and doing something that’s in keeping with the market and at an appropriate pace is better.”

Pugh said the WTCPUA has the capacity to expand its water treatment plant on the existing site’s footprint by
30 percent.

“The challenge is planning for when those future commitments actually get built to trigger the expansion,” he said. “So, if developers start building out and absorbing their allocated LUEs rapidly—if a bunch of them start building rapidly—then we’re going to probably have to move rapidly to expand our capacity at the water plant or the wastewater plant.”

Immediate concerns

The WTCPUA granted a new request Sept. 15 from CCNG for an additional 200 LUEs to accommodate 260 more apartments and another 210,000 square feet of office space but ordered the service be dependent on the agency having the capacity available at the time the developer wishes to hook up to the system.

CCNG’s original 750-LUE commitment represents about 20 percent of the total amount of wastewater the agency is currently treating and, with the additional LUEs granted
Sept. 15, that percentage climbs to 25 percent, Goodwin said.

No LUEs remain available for future development after issuing service to CCNG, he said.

The five-member board of directors discussed whether to place a moratorium on granting further LUEs to developers who request service. WTCPUA attorney David Klein said a moratorium would not apply to CCNG since its project is granted under a previous service agreement with the LCRA.

Kara King, a Bee Cave City Council member, said council will review the status of the WTCPUA at a future meeting.

“I’m not convinced that a development moratorium is going to happen,” she said. “Once we get [Pugh’s] answers [as to the need for a moratorium], we’ll have a better understanding of the issue.”

The next WTCPUA meeting is scheduled for Oct. 20.