Collection of I-35 water supply projects consider consolidating efforts

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The Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority, Hays Caldwell Public Utility Agency and Texas Water Alliance are wondering if three separate projects to bring water to the I-35 corridor are better than one.

The three water supply entities are working on projects to bring water from a portion of Gonzales County, southeast of Hays County to high-growth areas along the I-35 corridor, and officials from each group said joining forces is a subject of interest.

“Quite frankly I’m optimistic that the entities will come together with a single project,” GBRA General Manager Bill West said. “It just makes more sense from the general public’s standpoint.”

West said the GBRA is in the process of securing permits for its project, which uses a combination of groundwater, surface water and aquifer storage and recovery. The authority is looking to secure permits for up to 15,000 acre-feet of water. The project is estimated to cost $400 million.

“Anything that means the project is going to be more cost-effective for our ratepayers, that’s something we’re going to be interested in discussing.”

—Graham Moore, Hays Caldwell Public Utility Agency general manager

The HCPUA currently holds permits for 10,300 acre-feet of water annually from the Gonzales County Underground Water Conservation District. The agency also plans to pursue rights to 4,700 acre-feet annually from the Plum Creek Conservation District, which covers part of Kyle and as far south as Luling.

HCPUA General Manager Graham Moore said there is not a timeline in place for when the projects may join together, but the possibility of sharing costs on the HCPUA’s $350-million project is appealing.

“Anything that means the project is going to be more cost-effective for our ratepayers, that’s something we’re going to be interested in discussing,” he said. “We are definitely interested in having that discussion.”

According to an HCPUA presentation from earlier in 2015, the city of San Marcos will be responsible for covering 35.86 percent of the project cost, the city of Kyle will be responsible for 28.17 percent and the city of Buda will be responsible for 5.08 percent. The Canyon Regional Water Authority, composed of four private water suppliers, will be responsible for the remaining 30.89 percent of the project’s cost.

The concept of combining the projects has gained enough traction that the Regional L draft plan, which guides water policy in part of Central Texas including Hays County, includes a conceptual framework for how the projects could use the same infrastructure.

“It makes sense for all of us to come together to combine pipelines and treatment plants and all those facilities into one set of infrastructure instead of potentially three different sets,” Moore said.

According to the Regional L analysis, the joint project would be 9 percent less expensive on an annual unit cost basis—meaning a gallon of water through the joint project would cost 9 percent less—than if all three entities were to pursue their projects independently. It would cost 8 percent less than if the HCPUA and TWA were to jointly pursue their projects.

The three entities have yet to perform their own independent analysis of what cost-savings might be realized, but each agree the prospect of sharing infrastructure is appealing.

“The more water you can move through the same infrastructure, the lower sort of unit cost it’s going to be,” TWA General Manager Mark Janay said. “That sort of furthers the idea of also working with the HCPUA and/or GBRA. We shouldn’t have siloed projects that are essentially going the same direction and trying to accomplish the same thing. We should have one big pipe and then each utility makes its own investments to connect to that major distribution system.”

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Brett Thorne reported on education, business, economic development and city government in San Marcos, Kyle and Buda from 2012 to 2017. Thorne attended Texas State University in San Marcos, where he graduated in 2010. He joined Community Impact Newspaper as a reporter in 2012 and was promoted to editor in 2013.
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