Rate increases can be tied to several projects underway within the boundaries of the North Harris County and West Harris County regional water authorities to decrease the region’s groundwater usage through more surface water resources, according to Al Rendl, president of the North Harris County Regional Water Authority.
Rates at the NHCRWA will rise again, effective April 1, from $3.85 to $4.25 per 1,000 gallons of groundwater and from $4.30 to $4.70 per 1,000 gallons of surface water. At the WHCRWA, rates rose Jan. 1 from $2.95 to $3.20 per 1,000 gallons of groundwater and from $3.35 to $3.60 per 1,000 gallons of surface water.
“We have an additional $1.69 billion of debt that we are taking on to convert 60% of all the water that’s used in the North Harris County Regional Water Authority to surface water,” Rendl said. “And in order to pay for that, we have to increase the fees, ... and we will probably go up in the range of 45-50 cents [per 1,000 gallons] for the next three or four years before it’ll start to level off.”
The water authorities teamed up with the North Fort Bend and Central regional water authorities and the city of Houston to build the $385 million Luce Bayou Interbasin Transfer Project, which will bring water through the Trinity River to Lake Houston down to the water purification site. This project is slated to wrap up by the end of 2020 or early 2021, Rendl said.
The current water purification site is able to produce up to 70 million gallons daily, but Rendl said a new $1.78 billion plant is under construction with the capacity to treat 400 million gallons daily by the time it is completed in mid-2024.
“We’re not going to be using all of that capacity to start with, but as we convert more and more [water] in the area, we’ll be using more of that,” he said.
Once the water meets standard, it will be transmitted 26 miles to the water storage and pump station at Beltway 8 and Hwy. 249. Shared with the city of Houston, this transmission line will cost around $445 million. From there, Rendl said more lines would be built for an additional $635 million for 50-60 utility districts in the area to receive surface water by 2025.
Starting in 2003, the Harris-Galveston Subsidence District mandated the NHCRWA and WHCRWA, among other entities, reach at least 30%, 60% and 80% surface water reliance in 2010, 2025 and 2035, respectively.
Rendl said as underground water sources known as aquifers begin to dry up, the ground’s surface has gradually settled downward, a process known as subsidence. This led to the subsidence district’s formation in 1975 and later the mandate that if not met by 2025, water authorities will pay a penalty of around $9 per 1,000 gallons of additional groundwater used, he said.
“We’re doing it to meet the subsidence district mandates, but we’re doing it also because if we do not do it, we will not have water in the future,” he said.