Sugar Land, Missouri City and other local water districts submitted drought contingency plans to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality on May 1 knowing something new: that any additional water usage starting May 1 will come with a surcharge.
The TCEQ requires large retail public water suppliers to update, adopt and submit drought contingency plans every five years.
“Water is getting scarce, and so the requirements are getting stricter,” said Shashi Kumar, the Missouri City Public Works director. “If you overuse it, there is the consequences of fines.”
Sugar Land and Missouri City purchase river water, used for anything from drinking to watering lawns, from entities such as the Gulf Coast Water Authority, Missouri City Utilities Manager Dan McGraw said.
Water users are allocated an amount based on the average amount of water used per calendar month for the last three years, McGraw said.
If the TCEQ declares a drought, the city could pay surcharges on the extra water, ranging from $10,000 to $120,000 depending on the drought stage, costs that water providers would pass to consumers, McGraw said.
If the city could not get more water from the GCWA, it would work with the Fort Bend Subsidence District to augment the supply with well water, McGraw said.
Sugar Land City Council adopted its conservation plan at its April 16 meeting. In 2018, the city supplied an average of 20 million gallons per day of potable water, said Brian Butscher, assistant director of public works for the city of Sugar Land, via email.
To offset any surcharges, Butscher said the city has water rights along Oyster Creek and with the Brazos River Authority that are not subject to the GCWA restrictions, as well as a water supply model that uses different water supplies to minimize the impact of drought restrictions.
“Managing drought demands was a big part of the integrated water resources plan,” Butscher said. “The city followed recent changes to the GCWA drought plan closely and built updates into our water supply model.”
The new stricter regulations resulted from the five-year severe drought across Texas that began in 2010, GCWA General Manager Ivan Langford said.
Most drought contingency plans do not have associated financial penalties; however, the GCWA decided it was the best way to get its customers to practice conservation, he said.
“We are the first to admit ours is stricter than most, but at the same time, to be successful in a real drought, we have to have compliance; it cannot be voluntary,” Langford said. “We are taking it much more seriously. If you don’t comply, financially it is going to hit you hard. If you do, it will cost you nothing.”