Pumpage fees for groundwater and surface water are slated to increase April 1 across North Harris County to help fund a multibillion dollar initiative that will eventually deliver surface water from the Trinity River and Lake Houston to area homes.
Groundwater pumpage rates will increase from $3.40 per 1,000 gallons pumped to $3.85 per 1,000 gallons pumped, according to the North Harris County Regional Water Authority, one of the entities overseeing the pipeline project. Surface water rates will go up from $3.85 per 1,000 gallons pumped to $4.30 per 1,000 gallons pumped.
The rate increases directly affect water providers in the area that contract with the NHCRWA—including cities such as Jersey Village and Tomball, as well as a wide variety of utility districts—with costs typically being passed on to users.
“We do not have tax capabilities, so all of our costs are based on fees,” said Jun Chang, deputy general manager for the NHCRWA. “Those fees are collected and pay for projects or loans to do infrastructure and operation costs.”
The pipeline projects are needed to fulfill a state mandate requiring Harris County to reduce groundwater use and shift toward surface water use. Specifically, 60 percent of the water used in the North Harris County area must be surface water by 2025, and 80 percent of it must be surface water by 2035, according to Mike Turco, general manager of the Harris-Galveston Subsidence District. The HGSD is the state entity that regulates the groundwater usage of the water authorities in the region.
This shift is an attempt to offset subsidence—the lowering of land elevation by withdrawing too much groundwater—in the Greater Houston area, Turco said. Before requirements were put into place, every entity that could use groundwater at a 100 percent rate was doing so, he said.
Today, about 30 percent of the water pumped by most North Harris County entities is surface water, Turco said. One of the main consequences of subsidence is it can increase an area’s chances of flooding, he said.
“[Subsidence] is definitely something you want to solve because any subsidence that occurs is subsidence that will be there forever,” Turco said. “There are other things that contribute to flooding, but this is one we can solve.”
Similar rate increases have taken place on an annual basis dating back to 2014. In January 2014, the groundwater fee was $1.75 per 1,000 gallons pumped, and the surface water fee was $2.20 per 1,000 gallons pumped. Officials have suggested rates could continue to rise on an annual basis until they eventually reach the $5 range.
Projects being carried out by regional water authorities in North and West Harris County include building transmission lines, pumping stations, a $1.7 billion expansion of the Northeast Water Purification Plant at Lake Houston and the $380 million Luce Bayou Interbasin Transfer Project, which, when completed, will transport water from the Trinity River in Liberty County to Lake Houston.
Construction on the Luce Bayou project is slated to be complete in 2020, said Don Ripley, executive director of the Coastal Water Authority, which is working on the project.
Work on the plant expansion, which started in 2017, will be completed in two phases, officials said. The first phase will increase the number of gallons the plant can pump per day to 160 million, and it will be completed in 2022. The expansion to 400 million gallons per day will be completed by 2024.
A map of the NHCRWA boundaries, which were established by the state Legislature, can be found on the NHCRWA website.