Reuse project to lessen water costs, subsidence

To help the area's efforts of reducing reliance on ground water, Cinco Municipal Utility District 1 has begun a multi-million-dollar project that will use recycled water to irrigate about 20 percent of Cinco Ranch's public green space. The North Fort Bend Water Authority, which covers Cinco Ranch, met its 2013 goal of reducing reliance on groundwater by 30 percent.

This goal was achieved by conservation, surface water conversion and water reuse projects like Cinco MUD 1's. The NFBWA's next check point will be 2025, when it hopes to reduce reliance by 60 percent.

Cinco MUD 1's efforts are the first in the Katy area and will help lessen financial burdens on residents. Because MUD 1 is Cinco Ranch's master district, the reuse project will span over the community's 12 districts.

"Fresh water is going to get more expensive to use, so part of our overall plan for Cinco MUD 1 is to try to reduce our groundwater usage," said Steve Robinson, legal adviser for the MUD and partner with Allen Boone Humphries Robinson LLP.

Water costs

The water authorities impose groundwater and surface water fees, which they use to fund projects, such as building water transportation lines. Brown and Gay Engineers Project Manager Melinda Silva works with the NFBWA and said in the Greater Houston area, the largest water supply for many communities, including Katy, is controlled by the City of Houston.

The challenge of bringing the water west to keep up with growth requires expensive system construction, in which the financial burden trickles down to residents. Each authority charges a different fee, and NFBWA's is currently set at $1.80 for every 1,000 gallons of groundwater used, but it is expected to increase to at least $2.15 in the near future.

"In the North Fort Bend Water Authority, they have encouraged the MUDs to show the NFBWA fee on the water bills," Silva said. "So if you live in that area, if you look at your water bill, in most cases it will say the NFBWA fee. As a homeowner, you are paying a MUD fee and in addition a NFBWA fee or [other water authority] fee depending on where you're living. And in a lot of cases, those fees are more than your water bill."

In the case of Cinco MUD 1's project, Robinson said for every 1,000 gallons of reuse water the district uses, it avoids the authority's charge.

At its Cinco Central Wastewater Treatment Plant, ground storage tanks are being constructed that will hold the treated wastewater, or effluent, that is currently being dumped. The treated water will then be transported through a new pumping system to irrigate the central and northeast portions of Cinco Ranch. Once Phase 1 is completed by the end of the year, Phase 2 of the project is planned for 2014 and will include a similar system constructed at the Cinco South Wastewater Treatment Plant.

However, the recycled water will not be used for residential irrigation, said Matt Korte, water resource consultant for the MUD, and the only negative effects residents may see from the project are minor traffic interruptions as construction ensues.

"The hardest part is we have to retro-fit the water lines," he said. "We will have to decommission old lines and in the near future, residents will see excavation and installation and upgrades on sprinkler heads [in green space]."

Groundwater conservation

In the Greater Houston area, multiple water authorities regulate groundwater usage to help decrease subsidence.. When copious amounts of groundwater are removed in intervals that do not allow adequate time for the water to replenish, it causes subsidence—the sinking of land elevation from lack of support.

Historically, communities in the east and south have endured subsidence, with some areas sinking more than 10 feet. But according to the Houston-Galveston Subsidence District—an umbrella organization for certain water authorities—subsidence in Katy is expected to nearly double by 2030.

"Excessive groundwater withdrawal causes subsidence, and subsidence causes flooding," Robinson said.



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