The West Travis County Public Utility Agency, or WTCPUA, provides water to Bee Cave, the Lake Pointe Municipal Utility District and northern Hays County.

WTCPUA General Manager Jennifer Riechers said the WTCPUA services:
  • 9,700 retail water connections
  • 2,680 retail wastewater connections
  • 11,000 estimated wholesale connections
  • 14 wholesale customer contracts
Riechers answered questions via email for Community Impact about water in the region. Responses may have been edited for length and clarity.

How is the WTCPUA different from other water utility agencies?

The WTCPUA is a nonprofit public utility agency. A public utility agency is set up differently than a municipal utility district, water supply corporation or water control and improvement district. The most important difference is that the WTCPUA does not collect property taxes. Our revenue is solely from our rates. This makes it hard to compare our water rates to other neighboring utilities. Also, the board of directors [members] are appointed rather than elected.

Who runs the WTCPUA?

The WTCPUA was formed by three participating entities: city of Bee Cave, Hays County and West Travis County MUD No. 5—now Lake Pointe MUD. Board members are appointed by their respective member entity and serve four-year terms. Board members have a variety of professional experience that allows them to make decisions on behalf of the PUA.

Who regulates the WTCPUA?

The WTCPUA is regulated by its five-member board of directors. Two representatives are from the city of Bee Cave, one from [Lake Pointe MUD] and two from Hays County. All policies, procedures, budgets and rates are set by the board and managed day to day by the general manager and WTCPUA staff. The WTCPUA is also regulated for water and wastewater environmental compliance by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, or TCEQ, and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Lots of people are worried about water availability, especially coming out of a drought that we just experienced. How do droughts affect water supply for your customers?

The drought affects the water supply because the lack of rainfall causes people to irrigate more, which affects our system’s capacity. We are required to follow the [Lower Colorado River Authority’s] Drought Restriction policies because we are a firm water customer of the LCRA. Firm water customers are entities that have a firm commitment of raw water as approved by the LCRA. All WTCPUA water is provided by the LCRA, and we have a commitment for that water. The lake levels directly impact the LCRA and their availability of water.

This area is booming with development. How do you determine whether to approve a project that requires the WTCPUA and know that you’ll have enough for them and your existing customers?

Each new service request is reviewed by engineers who determine if the current infrastructure can meet the demands for the project. The engineers perform modeling to input the proposed use into the existing processes to ensure that the new capacity can be met.

Can you measure the amount of water each individual household or business is using during restrictions? If not, is that something you plan to do in the future?

We cannot currently monitor individual household usage in real time. Our meters do store usage data for six months, but we have to run individual reports from each meter, which is time consuming. We do plan to install Advanced Meter Infrastructure meters in the future. There is a significant cost to install the additional infrastructure.

How do you reach people if there is a water emergency, such as a boil-water notice, a water shut-off due to maintenance or a loss of power, like what happened during Winter Storm Mara?

Historically, we have used alerts that customers can sign up for through our website. We have recently joined the Voyent Alert to send notifications regarding system outages, boil-water notices and emergency situations. This allows us to direct our notices better geographically to just affected areas when sending out notices. We also post information on the news section of our website and as an alert on the website if necessary.

How are water and wastewater rates developed?

In rate design, a cost-of-service study is performed using industry standard methods to equitably allocate the costs of the utility across all customer classes. Revenue requirements are then determined to cover those costs, and final rates are calculated to ensure adequate end-of-year cash balances for the utility.

On the wastewater side, rates are set to cover the higher operating costs associated with these operations. This includes operating and maintaining two wastewater plants, and complying with TCEQ [Texas Land Application Permits] and 210 regulations for land applying wastewater effluent.