$1.3 billion water plant on Lake Houston to provide ‘water for the future’ of region

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Area water authorities are moving forward with an overhaul of a dated water plant on Lake Houston that will increase the amount of water provided to residents across the region.

The organizations broke ground on the $1.3 billion Northeast Water Purification Plant expansion on Sept. 15. Once complete, it will increase the plant’s treated water capacity to 400 million gallons per day by 2024 from its existing capacity of 80 million gallons per day.

The original plant opened in 2009, said Al Rendl, president of the North Harris County Regional Water Authority, but the water quality in Lake Houston was worse than anticipated.

“The [plant’s] capacity was cut down and cut even further back around 2011 when we had the severe drought and tremendous rains in 2012 that washed so much organic material in the lake, making it very difficult to process the water,” he said.

Rising costs
The NHCRWA, Central Harris County Regional Water Authority, West Harris County Regional Water Authority and North Fort Bend Water Authority partnered with the city of Houston to complete the project, which will ultimately cost anywhere from $1.3 billion to $1.4 billion, Rendl said.

All participating water authorities will sell bonds from the State Water Implementation Fund for Texas to pay for the purification plant, but area residents will also see a hike in water rates.

Rendl said water costs could reach a range of $5 per 1,000 gallons, which is more than double today’s rates, when the plant is complete.

“People don’t like increases in cost, but if we don’t do anything, what will happen when [the state]puts mandatory rationing in place? We are creating water for the future,” he said.

In addition to the cities of Houston and Humble, which provide water to their respective water users, the unincorporated portions of the Lake Houston area will receive surface water from the NHCRWA and the West Harris County Regional Water Authority. The city of Houston provides water to the portions of Kingwood located within Montgomery County.

Addressing a need
To accommodate for growth and allow for more water to be treated, the project includes the construction of new purification facilities to connect to the existing plant, an intake pump in Lake Houston, and expanding the pipeline that runs to the plant.

Two 108-inch pipes will carry the water from Lake Houston to the Northeast Water Purification Plant and will run alongside the existing pipe. Construction will not affect the current quality of water and existing operations, he said.

Preserving groundwater is key in preventing subsidence—when land sinks due to groundwater being pumped out—and consequential flooding, said Ravi Kaleyatodi, Houston water project director for the Northeast Water Purification Plant Expansion.

“In addition, it will lessen our dependence on groundwater thus alleviating ground subsidence.”

Luce Bayou
The timing of the treatment plant coincides with another major water project, the Luce Bayou Interbasin Transfer Project.

“One cannot work without the other,” Rendl said. “…The only reason we will be able to [increase water capacity at the plant]is because we are building Luce Bayou to bring up 450 million gallons of water from the Trinity River. So droughts in our future should not affect the water level in Lake Houston because we will be able to pump in as much water as we need.”

Crews broke ground on the Luce Bayou Interbasin Transfer Project in February and are expected to finish in 2019, Rendl said. The $3 billion project is the largest surface water initiative in the region and will further reduce subsidence by providing more surface water to Houston-area residents.

It includes the construction of a 26-mile system of pipes and canals to bring water from the Trinity River into the east fork of the San Jacinto River and then into Lake Houston, Rendl said.
“They are well along on the intake pump station and all of the contracts have been let for the bayou itself, and everything as far as we know is on track,” he said.

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