The development boom in Pearland and Friendswood has attracted more health care options, retailers and tax dollars to improve the quality of life for residents, but the additional rooftops mean increasing pressure on water and sewer infrastructure.
The city of Pearland is trying to stay ahead of the population curve as developers snatch up undeveloped plots. But the city may be unable to quench the thirst of its growing population within five years without massive investments in its water and sewer infrastructure.
“At the end of the day, water is going to dictate growth in the area,” Pearland Public Works Director Eric Wilson said.
And in Friendswood, a city of less than 40,000 resident, the public works department is investing heavily in the city’s sewer system to increase its capacity while positioning the city for additional expansions in the future.
A thirsty population
Pearland is investing nearly $160 million in a new surface water treatment facility near Airline Road South and Southfork Drive in Pearland. The new facility, which is in the design phase, will not only meet future water demands but could even become a regional plant, supplying cities like neighboring Manvel and Alvin that, too, are quickly growing, according to the city.
The city’s population skyrocketed from roughly 38,000 in 2000, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, to about 120,000 as of January, according to the city’s estimates.
“[The water plant] is critical, not just to Pearland but also for the region,” Wilson said. “Short-term planning in the world of water and wastewater is 20 years. I try to look at stuff 50 to 100 years. That’s really getting the crystal ball out and trying to dial it out.”
The city’s maximum capacity to date is 34 million gallons per day, more than half of which is supplied by groundwater. Currently, the only sources of surface water are the city of Houston and the Clear Brook City Municipal Utility District.
The new surface water treatment plant is expected to provide up to 20 million gallons of additional drinking water per day from the Brazos River through a contract with the Brazos River Water Authority. The city is investing in the first phase of development, which is slated for completion in 2022 and will provide 10 million gallons per day. Depending on growth needs at the time, officials can decide to postpone phase two, which would add an additional 10 million gallons per day.
Rumblings of a surface water treatment facility began more than a decade ago. Seeing the growth on the horizon, officials purchased the rights to an additional 20 million gallons per day from the Brazos River Water Authority in 2006 and purchased land for the water plant in 2008.
“It’s one of the largest undertakings the city has taken to date,” Pearland Assistant City Manager Trent Epperson said. “There’s a lot of forethought that city leaders took … and those things put us in a really good position to meet our needs for the next several years.”
The plant and a modern water metering system will be funded by a $160 million loan from the Texas Water Development Board. The city received approval in November for a multi-year commitment from the state’s Drinking Water State Revolving Fund. Municipalities that are approved are able to finance loans at below market interest rates.
“I think Pearland is a perfect example of a community that is identifying what its issues are,” said Jessica Zuba, deputy executive administrator of water supply and infrastructure at the Texas Water Development Board. “They went to the extent of doing a comprehensive plan to assess what their needs are going to be.”
In nearby Friendswood, officials have invested $3.6 million to expand the capacities of its two water plants by 227,000 gallons. The city upgraded both plants with concrete buildings to protect them—along with the pumps, chemicals and electronics—from future hurricanes as well as upgraded fencing to meet regulatory requirements.
The city also upgraded the backup generators and added four total pumps at the facilities.
“We’ve had a lot of growth,” said Patrick Donart, Friendswood city engineer and public works director. “What we’ve been doing is mainly looking at the infrastructure we have and try to make it better and prioritizing the needs.”
The funds come from city water and sewer bonds with additional funding from local municipal utility districts.
Drinking water is not the only thing concerning officials as they plan for future growth. Increasing water output to residents means more water will find its way down drains and into wastewater, or sewage, treatment facilities.
In Pearland, the public works and engineering departments broke ground in August on a $44.7 million expansion of the Reflection Bay Water Reclamation Facility. The expansion, which is projected to be complete in 2019, is expected to increase capacity from 2 million gallons to 6 million gallons a day, according to the city.
The updated Reflection Bay facility will have additional odor control units, additional grit removal, and improved disinfection and filtration systems that improve the quality of the water that the city discharges into Clear Creek.
The project is funded by a separate loan of $61.2 million from the Texas Water Development Board.
The city of Friendswood is investing more than $6 million in improving its wastewater systems.
The public works department is working on improvements to three of the city’s 39 lift stations, which serves as collection points before pumping sewage from a lower to higher elevation to send to a treatment facility.
One lift station was completed in late 2016, a second was completed in early February and the third will break ground later this year. After all three are completed, the city will have total capacity for 27 million gallons per day, up from 18 million gallons per day.
“The city is always looking at trying to upgrade their sanitary sewer and water systems,” Donart said. “Some things are mandated by the state; some are mandated by development.”
Regulatory requirements included increased security fencing and improved generators in case of an emergency.
Both water and wastewater infrastructure projects are driven by population demand.
People are expected to keep moving into Pearland until growth fizzles at an estimated 220,000 residents between 2040 and 2050, according to the city. Most of the growth has moved to the east side of Pearland as Shadow Creek Ranch approaches build-out, so the city has started working on projects years down the road.
Pearland is designing potential improvements to either Barry Rose Wastewater Treatment Plant or the John Hargrove Environmental Complex for a future expansion project, depending on the growth trajectory in east Pearland, according to the city. Down the line, Pearland may decommission two of its smaller wastewater facilities to grow and regionalize its other facilities.
“[The population boom] has moved from the west side over to [the east]side. That has triggered us because we don’t want to get caught behind the curve,” Wilson said.
In addition to multimillion-dollar facility improvements, Pearland is investing in older neighborhoods near Old Townsite, which was built in the ’60s, to repair or replace old water and sewer lines.
“Trying to split our efforts between growth and recapitalization is a balancing act. It’s something we strive to do,” Wilson said.