West Lake Hills working to increase fire flow for hydrants

West Lake Hills City Council often discusses ways to improve the safety through fire prevention. The city became the first U.S. contract for the Germany-based FireWatch camera system, inking the $200,000 deal in early 2013, and the city budgets for brush pickup nearly every year, Mayor Dave Claunch said.

"We do a lot more than most cities when it comes to fire prevention," he said.

West Lake Hills recently became a Firewise city and has been working with Water District No. 10 for more than two years to increase the flow of area fire hydrants.

Hydrants history

In fall 2011, after the Steiner Ranch wildfires, Claunch and City Administrator Robert Wood met with Clif Drummond, president of the WD 10 board of directors, and Paul Wakefield, general manager for WD 10, to discuss water pressure and flow rates for fire hydrants throughout the city.

The city spent $30,000 to test the water district's infrastructure in West Lake Hills. The Dec. 8, 2011, results found that roughly

40 percent of the hydrants had a flow rate less than 2,000 gallons per minute, the minimum the city hoped to reach.

In an email to the city, Drummond said there are four areas of the city identified as having fire flows below 1,000 gallons per minute: Nob Hill Circle and Skyline Drive, Windsong Trail, West Ledgeway and Cedar Oak Drive, and the western portion of Yaupon Valley Road and upper Flintridge Road.

In order for WD 10 to change its guaranteed water delivery rate capability to the 2,000 gallons per minute dictated by West Lake Hills' September 2012 ordinance, it would have to spend an estimated $66 million in costs plus an estimated $18.54 million for the four areas with low fire flow, Drummond said in an email.

Drummond said the additional debt the district would take on would increase the tax on each home and business owner by as much as an additional 30 cents on top of the existing 2.89 cents of maintenance tax.

"In the 55 years since the beginning of the district, our taxpayers have passed four bond issues whose total costs are just more than $7 million for capital improvements to improve and upgrade our infrastructure," Drummond said in an email to the city. "The city of West Lake Hills is asking the taxpayers of the water district to spend 10 times as much on capital improvements as has been spent in total over the past 55 years."

Oct. 8 meeting

A fire that occurred in 2012 in the garage of a home on the western end of Yaupon Valley Road could have ignited the Wild Basin Nature Reserve had the fire department not been able to contain it, Claunch said. While the house fire was not the basis for seeking improved fire flow from hydrants, he said it did work to bring the issue to the forefront.

State Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, and state Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, held a meeting between WD 10 and the city of West Lake Hills to resolve whatever differences remained between the two entities.

"We don't care about the past today," Watson said. "The goal now is the future and the safety of our residents."

Watson listed a six-point process for the two governmental bodies to get things moving starting with the meeting:

  • Both parties agree on a standard for testing fire hydrants and fire flow.
  • Identify priority areas.
  • Identify a timeline, process and cost for any upgrades identified.
  • Establish a process for determining a financing mechanism including rate increases, bonds, rate surcharges and more.
  • Identify other issues that might present public safety issues in the area such as roads, clearing brush and tree remediation.

Current tests

The city is currently retesting the pressure of fire hydrants throughout the city using the method preferred by WD 10, Claunch said.

Wood said the testing should be complete in mid-November at a cost of roughly $16,000.

"We have serious doubts about the test results we paid for in 2011," Claunch said.

WD 10 plans to release the test results from the hydrants not located in the city limits, areas that are still serviced by the Westlake Fire Department, during its November meeting.

A joint meeting between the water district and City Council is scheduled for Dec. 4 at 7 p.m. at City Hall.

"At that point, theoretically, we will have a snapshot of the water pressure for the hydrants in the district," Claunch said.