Nine months after signing a contract with the company to shore up its water supply, Buda has ended ties with Electro Purification, whose project in Central Hays County created tension between the city and its neighbors.

According to a city of Buda news release, Electro Purification’s nine-month feasibility period expired Oct. 20, and the company failed to demonstrate the ability to provide the city 1 million gallons a day from 2017-23. With water deal voided, Buda mulling its options

“They didn’t fulfill their end of the contract,” Mayor Todd Ruge said. “We are no longer a party to the EP project.”

The company had been proposing to pump 5.3 million gallons of water a day to provide water to Buda, Niederwald-based Goforth Special Utility District and a high-end subdivision in Mountain City’s unincorporated area. The idea was met with resistance from western Hays County residents who feared the wells they rely on as their drinking water source would be adversely affected by the pumping.

However, EP attorney Ed McCarthy said the company has not been informed the city is terminating the contract. He also said the notion that EP failed to prove the viability of the project is untrue.

“We have been delayed in being able to prove up the water as a result of legislative activity and the permitting process at the Barton Springs/Edwards Aquifer Conservation District,” McCarthy said.

In June a bill authored by state Rep. Jason Isaac, R-Dripping Springs, to bring the previously unregulated area of the Trinity Aquifer in Central Hays County under the authority of the BSEACD became law.

Ruge said Buda’s attorneys sent a letter to EP notifying the company that the contract with the city is null and void.

“The contract expired,” he said. “We have no desire to extend the contract, so the contract has dissolved.”

Likely deal with neighbors
Buda’s future permanent water source will come online in 2023. The city projects a shortfall of 1 million gallons of water a day beginning in 2017 because of expected growth, and it has arranged to buy water that is allocated to but not being used by the cities of San Marcos and Kyle. With water deal voided, Buda mulling its options

Ruge said although the city is close to finalizing that arrangement, Buda is still in the market for water.

A water and wastewater subcommittee of Buda City Council is taking a look at about “six or seven” alternative water sources, including getting water from governmental entities such as the Guadalupe-Blanco and Lower Colorado river authorities as well as private landowners, he said.

The city’s water-sharing agreement with the cities of San Marcos and Kyle to purchase their excess surface water from the GBRA I-35 pipeline means Buda water customers will eventually absorb the cost of taking half a million gallons of water per day from each city, from 2017-23.

Consultants are working to formulate a rate structure that city of Buda water customers will pay.

“There are a lot of moving parts,” Ruge said. “We are trying to make sure we get not only the correct billing and price, but a fair price for everyone involved. We are very close to getting there.”

About $1.27 million is budgeted in the 2015-16 fiscal year for improvements to the GBRA I-35 pipeline, including a larger pump and connector lines, in anticipation of the increased water capacity, he said. Ruge said the infrastructural improvements would have been necessary in the future regardless of the increase in water delivered through the GBRA I-35 pipeline. He said the pump and connector lines are slated to be completed by October 2016.

With its short-term water gap all but bridged, Buda’s water and wastewater committee has taken a look at projects that could boost the city’s water portfolio in the long term.

Aquifer storage and recovery
Aquifer storage and recovery, or ASR, is among the city’s options gaining traction recently. A method of storing water for use in times of drought, ASR entails pumping water from one source of water and injecting it into an aquifer. With water deal voided, Buda mulling its options

Often during periods of drought, groundwater conservation districts limit the amount of water that can be pumped from the bodies of water they oversee. In Buda’s case drought limitations on the Edwards Aquifer would not affect the city’s ability to pump Edwards Aquifer water that has been stored in the Trinity Aquifer below it.

Ruge said the project could be beneficial to Buda and the region.

“ASR has a lot of promise in our region, but there needs to be testing,” he said. “With our participation, and along with [that of] some other communities, I think [ASR] could really open up some more water sources.”

On Nov. 17 Buda City Council voted in favor of a resolution of support for BSEACD’s ASR project. The council also dedicated $60,000 in dedicated funds toward a BSEACD feasibility study. Hays County and the city of Kyle have also supported the study.

BSEACD is seeking grant funds from the Texas Water Development Board, which recently launched a grant initiative for groundwater conservation districts looking into ASR. BSEACD General Manager John Dupnik said the budget for the district’s ASR feasibility study could be anywhere from $250,000 to $500,000.

He said that money could be enough for both research, which involves computer analysis, as well as demonstration, which would use existing wells to test the research.

Ruge said if the TWDB approves the grant and the BSEACD project moves past the feasibility stage it could take two years for the project to come online.

Interest in ASR is growing throughout Texas, TWDB Deputy Executive Administrator Robert Mace said. In light of successful projects in Kerrville and San Antonio and with a new law establishing clearer ground rules for the ASR permitting process, TWDB launched its grant program, which includes $1 million for feasibility studies statewide.

“That really speaks to the fact that this type of technology is really underutilized,” Dupnik said. “If you go to other parts of the country … this is very well-established technology.”

A lack of familiarity among state water providers with ASR has led to hesitancy in the past to implement the technology. Mace said because they lack familiarity with ASR, water providers often perceive a risk of the
project failing.

Dupnik said TWDB’s program will help further encourage the concept throughout the state.

Direct potable reuse
Buda City Council is also considering direct potable reuse, or DPR. The process uses wastewater, such as water that drains after a resident takes a shower, and passes it through filtration, reverse osmosis and then ultraviolet disinfection, which purifies the water. With water deal voided, Buda mulling its options

Should Buda move forward with DPR it would be the first system of its kind in Central Texas, said Andrea Morrow, spokesperson for the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.

Buda Water Specialist Brian
Lillibridge said Buda City Council has recommended the city sample treated wastewater for a year, a TCEQ requirement for any DPR project to move forward. If after a year the TCEQ gives the city the green light, Buda can then go through the regional water-planning process. A regional water-planning group would then decide whether to recommend the project in the next state water plan. Whether a project is recommended determines its eligibility for state funding.

Morrow said the recent drought has affected public water systems statewide, and many of them are now looking to alternative methods.

“The TCEQ Water Supply Division encourages all public water systems to diversify their water source portfolio in order to work towards a drought-resistant supply,” she said. “DPR is one of many water sources that can help public water systems have access to a variety of sources.”

Angela Kennedy, a water resources engineer and the only member of Buda City Council to vote against the EP contract in January 2015, chairs the city’s water and wastewater subcommittee. She said water supply projects bring with them many technical issues that take time to consider, and the purpose of the committee was to bridge the technical gap for the council.

“We obviously have a need for additional water,” Kennedy said. “After going through the ordeal with the EP contract and the legislative session, I think we saw that the council and the city needed a more technically deliberative process to decide on the direction we are going to go toward the future water supply.”