Construction begins on the largest surface water project in the region—the Luce Bayou Project—in January, a venture that could cause residential water bills to double or triple in the next decade.
“It’s a massive project, but if we don’t do anything then we won’t have water,” said Al Rendl, president of the North Harris County Regional Water Authority. “We can almost guarantee if we did nothing, every well in this area over the next 10-15 years would dry up. So you’ve got to do something in order to keep the ability to grow. Without the Luce Bayou Project, this area is doomed—no question.”
Luce Bayou Project
When the Luce Bayou Project is completed in 2023, it will decrease the region’s dependence on groundwater and reduce the threat of subsidence—the sinking of land that threatens the foundation of homes and businesses, Rendl said. The project will siphon water from the Trinity River to Lake Houston, providing surface water to the region, including Spring and Klein.
The Texas Water Development Board approved about $3.9 billion in financial assistance from the State Water Implementation Fund for Texas in July, of which $2.9 billion will go to infrastructure associated with the Luce Bayou Project. The bonds will allow the five regional water authorities that collaborated on the project to finance the LBP with low-interest loans, Rendl said.
The first phase of construction includes a 26-mile system of pipes and canals that will bring surface water from the Trinity River to the area of Luce Bayou that feeds into Lake Houston, officials said. It was designed and will be constructed by the Coastal Water Authority, which manages water resources in parts of Harris, Chambers and Liberty counties.
However, five local water authorities—including four in Harris County and one in Fort Bend County—will receive surface water from the project beginning in 2021, Rendl said. The authorities are receiving SWIFT funding to build infrastructure to handle the additional resources.
The NHCRWA, which manages water resources in northern Harris County, including Spring and Klein, was approved to receive $953 million in bonds from SWIFT. The money will help fund the expansion of the Northeast Water Purification Plant on Lake Houston, transmission lines and the distribution system to provide additional surface water by 2025.
Future bonds will help fund the remaining balance of the project, which will be paid off through user fees from water users across the Greater Houston area. Rendl said residents will see their water bills increase substantially in the next decade because of debt service costs associated with the project.
New infrastructure will also be needed on Lake Houston to get the additional water from the Luce Bayou Project to utility districts, said Amanda Lavin, deputy executive administrator for water supply and infrastructure at the TWDB.
The existing water treatment facility on the southwest corner of Lake Houston will receive a $1.2 billion makeover to increase its pumping capacity from 80 million gallons of surface water per day so it can process and pump up to 400 million gallons of surface water per day to water users within the five water authorities once the project is completed in 2023, Rendl said.
The treatment facility funding will also come from SWIFT money, officials said.
Even though Spring was one of the first communities in the region to begin converting to surface water in 2009, rapid development in the area is challenging the NHCRWA’s conversion goals.
Master-planned communities, such as Springwoods Village—which houses ExxonMobil’s new campus and its 10,000 employees—and other developments cropping up around the Grand Parkway segments F-1, F-2 and G need water quickly, Rendl said.
“Look at every intersection where [the Grand Parkway]will have an exchange [and]look at what’s happening to the farmland around that area,” Rendl said. “It’s nothing but new development and new businesses, and this is on the entire Grand Parkway going around.”
Springwoods Village developer Coventry Development Corporation has a plan in place to meet the water mandate. Keith Simon, executive vice president for CDC Houston, said Harris County Improvement District No. 18—which funds water, sewer and roads in Springwoods Village—contracts with Spring-based TNG Utility to operate its water system.
Today, the master-planned community receives its water from two wells that pump from the Evangeline and the Jasper aquifers, Simon said. Springwoods Village will be provided with groundwater until about 2025, when it will be converted to surface water from Lake Houston, officials said.
“This is very important to Springwoods Village’s sustainability goals,” Simon said.
Groundwater vs. surface water
Portions of Spring and Klein were the first areas within North Harris County Regional Water Authority’s boundaries that were converted to surface water after the Harris-Galveston Subsidence District mandated water authorities gradually reduce the area’s dependency on groundwater in 1996, Rendl said.
The Spring area began receiving surface water in 2009. Today, the NHCRWA receives 31 million gallons of surface water per day from Lake Houston, of which about 60 percent goes to water users in Spring. The converted portions of Spring receive anywhere from 60-90 percent of their water from Lake Houston, Rendl said.
“We feel we’re doing things to ensure we’re going to have an adequate quantity of potable drinking water for now and into the far future,” Rendl said.
He said the mandate was necessary after heavy subsidence—the sinking of an area of land that threatens the foundation of homes and businesses—was caused by pumping from shrinking groundwater wells and aquifers in the Greater Houston area. Overdependence on groundwater also caused severe stress on the fast depleting Chicot and Evangeline aquifers, which provide much of the groundwater used in Spring.
Regional water authorities are required by the HGSD mandate to convert at least 30 percent of their water use to nongroundwater sources by January 2010, 65 percent by 2025 and 80 percent by 2030.