As Montgomery County utility providers work to reduce reliance on groundwater, some local providers are implementing reclaimed water—or treated wastewater—systems for commercial and residential customers.
While reclaimed water use has been discussed for decades by some local utility providers, such as the San Jacinto River Authority, an increasing amount of utility providers are implementing the systems to reduce groundwater reliance and the financial strain on customers. Because reclaimed water is filtered and recycled from treated wastewater, it is only used for irrigation and is more cost effective than potable water.
The Southern Montgomery County Municipal Utility District, or SMCMUD, has started inspecting, approving and delivering reclaimed water to seven commercial customers in the first phase of its reclaimed water delivery system. The first phase cost about $3 million, has a service area of 138 acres and primarily affects commercial customers. The plan is expected to conserve about 28 million gallons of potable water demand annually, MUD General Manager Rick Moffatt said.
In addition, the SMCMUD will be the first in the county to deliver water to residential customers, which will directly address one of the largest strains on groundwater resources, Lone Star Groundwater Conservation District General Manager Kathy Jones said.
"The majority of water that is used for irrigation purposes goes onto home lawns during summertime conditions, and it is obtained through the public water systems," Jones said. "The Southern Montgomery County MUD has recognized this fact and intends to furnish water to homeowners as well."
In Phase 2 of the project, the SMCMUD will serve up to 140 residential customers in the Rayford Road area for use for lawn irrigation. The district will continue to invest about $1 million per year to expand the system until it reaches about 85 percent of customers, Moffatt said. The project may take five to six years to complete.
"We are anticipating [residential customers] will save between 45 and 55 percent on their water bill by using the reclaimed water for irrigation," Moffatt said.
Additionally, irrigation rates within the district will increase on Oct. 1 for customers eligible for the reclaimed water system that do not convert from potable water, Moffatt said.
The Woodlands division of the SJRA has been delivering reclaimed water to The Woodlands Country Club Tournament Course for about five years now.
The SJRA system, however, releases the reclaimed water into Lake Harrison as the golf course draws its irrigation water from the lake. Lake Harrison is located near the Grogan's Mill Road and South Millbend Drive intersection.
The pipeline for the partnership was laid in the 1970s, which shows the SJRA was considering reclaimed water system use over 30 years ago, said Steve Mckeon, SJRA The Woodlands division utility operations superintendent.
While the Tournament Course is the SJRA's only customer, the two entities are discussing a possible expansion of the partnership to deliver reclaimed water to other golf courses in The Woodlands. However, the cost of infrastructure construction prohibits the SJRA from further expansion, The Woodlands division manager SuEllen Staggs said.
"Logistically, the big expense is the pipeline cost, it is not additional treatment," Staggs said. "So you need a fairly high-volume user to make the pipeline infrastructure reasonable for a payback per thousand gallons. It just isn't terribly feasible to do it elsewhere."