Katy area residents see water bill hikes

Image description
Katy area residents see water bill hikes
Image description
Katy area residents see water bill hikes
Image description
Katy area residents see water bill hikes
As regional water authorities continue to push for reduced groundwater usage to fight subsidence, they have raised their mandated surface water conversion fees yearly since 2014. The West Harris County Regional Water Authority and the North Fort Bend Regional Water Authority fees increased by 25 cents and 30 cents per 1,000 gallons respectively Jan. 1.

Municipal utility districts and Katy and Fulshear officials said water rates have been steady for years, and bill increases residents see are due to surface water fees charged by the water authorities.

“The city’s rate has not increased … since before 2000,” Katy’s Public Works Director Elaine Lutringer said.

Bill Callegari, a former state representative who helped establish the water authorities in the early 2000s, said they are in place to help the Harris Galveston Subsidence District reduce subsidence—the gradual sinking of land caused by removing groundwater—in  Greater Houston. Subsidence increases flood risks and damages structures, he said.

Water authorities use fees to pay for infrastructure to distribute surface water from Lake Houston. Projects include expanding the Northeast Water Purification Plant in Harris County and pipelines to bring surface water to Greater Katy.

The projects will help meet a goal set by the Harris Galveston Subsidence District to reduce groundwater usage by 60 percent by 2025, said Peter Houghton, President of the North Fort Bend Regional Water Authority.

Houghton said meeting that goal would allow residents to avoid a disincentive fee of $8.75 per 1,000 gallons used.

“That’s where you’ve really got to start looking at escalating costs,” Callegari said.

Residents paying more


MUDs and cities pass surface water conversion costs to their residents, Callegari said. City and MUD officials said water authority fees drive water bill totals.

“Just last month, [my bill] went from $60 to $91. I would say that is an increase,” Katy area resident Diane Wolfenberger said.

Fulshear Assistant City Manager Brant Gary said one-third of residential water bills are water authority fees.

In two examples of Fulshear resident water bills, 24 percent and 28 percent of the bills were the city’s base fee of $13 and additional usage over 5,000 gallons. Meanwhile, 35 percent and 38 percent were North Fort Bend Water Authority fees.

“There is a fairly significant fee and in terms of looking for a stock trading metaphor, it’s almost a hedge fund,” Gary said.

Keith Gier, President of Fort Bend County MUD 151, which serves the Firethorne subdivision, said MUDs and cities encourage conservation to help residents manage costs. Rates also encourage conservation.

“Our rates are scheduled so that the greater amount of water you use, then the rates increase on the back end. On the front side of the bill, [MUD 151] actually lowered the rates in order to offset [water authority fees],” Gier said.

City and MUD representatives said they often offset water authority fees if they can.

“The increases come when the authorities … raise their rates,” Lutringer said.

Conserving groundwater


Houghton said converting to surface water is expensive. Water authorities have groundwater reduction plans which help providers meet groundwater pumpage reduction goals.

“We have some fairly massive infrastructure projects that we are participating in the cost of, including the second source line that will run 39 miles through west Harris County and north Fort Bend County to bring water from the new Northeast Water Plant on Lake Houston,” Houghton said.

The water authorities are helping to expand the Northeast Houston Water Treatment Plant. The pipeline is expected to cost about $900 million, while the water plant project cost about $1.6 billion, Houghton said. The pipes and plant expansion should be completed by 2022.

“The real incentive to convert to surface water is to meet the subsidence district’s requirements, because if you don’t, if we are not 60 percent converted by 2025 then [residents pay the] disincentive fee,” Houghton said.

Gier said MUD 151 is years away from getting surface water from the water authority projects, so it has to recycle and conserve water instead.

“Unfortunately, at this time, surface water is not really an option,” Gier said. “[There’s just] nowhere to draw from at the present time.”

In June, Katy approved replacing residential water meters by the end of the year and providing an online portal for residents to track water use.

“We encourage our citizens to always conserve this natural resource, especially when irrigating lawns and landscaping,” Lutringer said.

Increased water demand


Planning for the growth the Katy area is experiencing helps municipalities manage groundwater use, officials said. Katy is considering two more water wells over the next five years, and the city of Fulshear adopted a master plan for water and wastewater management.

“This is actually a fairly common thing for municipalities. Looking at more than next year or few months,” Gary said.

New water wells are being drilled in the Katy area. The city of Katy tapped a $700,000 sixth water well in April 2017.

Katy will expand its wastewater plant to meet wastewater service demands, Mayor Chuck Brawner said. Katy passed a $5 million bond in May for the expansion, he said.

Increasing recycled water availability and encouraging conservation help, Houghton said, but not enough to avoid expensive projects, especially given the area’s growth.

Gary said Fulshear adopted its water and wastewater master plan Aug. 9 as a necessary step given its growth.

“[The city’s water] service area population that in 2017 was about 10,000 people—in 2036, 30 years down the road, you’re looking at 75,000 to 88,000 people,” Gary said.

The plan includes a new 30-acre wastewater treatment plant and partnering with MUDs and developers to build water infrastructure, Gary said. The city hopes partnerships will reduce costs to tax payers. Fulshear’s water upgrades may cost $117 million, according to city documents.

“It’s really a joint effort between developers and city,” Gary said. “We’re having to be a little bit more entrepreneurial–’MacGyverish’–to get some of this done.”

Houghton said growth can add to subsidence. To keep groundwater from being used at an unsustainable rate, the projects the water authorities are working on are vital.

“There’s no real replacement for this infrastructure that we’re all working together to share the cost of,” Houghton said.


MOST RECENT

apartment building exterior
Katy-area evictions continue due to recession

Although evictions are significantly down compared to last year across the country, Texas and particularly Harris County have had some of the highest numbers in the country, experts said.

Baylor College of Medicine is seeking volunteers for a COVID-19 study looking to determine the prevalence of the viral disease in the Houston area. (Courtesy Baylor College of Medicine)
Baylor College of Medicine recruiting participants for COVID-19 prevalence study

The study will collect samples from 70,000 individuals nationwide.

Hurricane Harvey hit the Houston region in 2017. (Vanessa Holt/Community Impact Newspaper)
Q&A: Houston hydrologist explains climate change’s role in intensified flooding, importance of planning for future storms

“We’re looking at more intense and more frequent storms, and so, as a region, we’re going to need to think about that when we’re planning. We need to plan for that worst-case climate change [scenario].”

Some Harris County residents could be eligible for free workforce training. (Courtesy Lone Star College System)
Harris County partners with Lone Star College to offer free workforce training this fall

Furloughed, unemployed and underemployed Harris County residents could be eligible for one of 17 training programs.

The COVID-19 recession, which is considered to have started both domestically and globally in late February, is unlike any other economic downturn in recent history, one expert said: It could potentially be much longer-lasting than a traditional recession. (Courtesy Pexels)
Sales tax revenue rebounds in some Houston cities following COVID-19 shutdowns

While revenue data shows both positive and negative regional trends in 2020, experts said businesses must brace for more changes as the economy fluctuates.

Child Advocates of Fort Bend, along with AccessHealth and the Harris Health System, opened a medical clinic for child victims of sexual abuse Oct. 1. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
Medical clinic for child victims of sexual abuse opens in Katy area

Child Advocates of Fort Bend, along with AccessHealth and the Harris Health System, opened a medical clinic for child victims of sexual abuse Oct. 1.

(Community Impact Newspaper staff)
Greater Houston region faces glut of industrial, commercial space and multifamily housing

While the Greater Houston area has seen a glut of office space for the last six years, Patrick Jankowski said the industrial buildup has happened more in the past year and a half.

Early voters wait in a line out the door at the Fort Bend County Libraries Sugar Land Branch the morning of Oct. 20. (Claire Shoop/Community Impact Newspaper)
Fort Bend County averages more than 21,000 in-person voters daily during first week of early voting

Fort Bend County saw 128,619 voters cast ballots in person during the first week of early voting for the Nov. 3 general election.

Katy ISD student waiting in line for COVID-19 test
Katy ISD expanding COVID-19 testing services to students

Students enrolled in Katy ISD can get tested through the partnership with RediMD.

Hurts Donut
Hurts Donut leaves Katy for new location near Rice Military

The Missouri-based chain serves up creative toppings on donuts 24 hours a day.

Voters wait in line at a Cy-Fair polling location Oct. 16. (Danica Lloyd/Community Impact Newspaper)
More than 800,000 Harris County residents cast ballots in first 8 days of early voting

This total includes nearly 697,000 in-person votes and 105,000 mail-in votes.