Buda 'very close' to securing alternate water source

Buda is closing in on a source of water that could step in if its controversial deal to shore up its supply falls through.

Despite having a contract with Houston-based water supplier Electro Purification to pump 1 million gallons of water a day from the Middle Trinity Aquifer in central Hays County, the city of Buda is seeking agreements with the cities of San Marcos and Kyle to share water from the Canyon Reservoir, supplied by the Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority.

“I think we’re very close,” Buda Mayor Todd Ruge said. “It’s going to take a little time, but I have positive feelings we’re really on the right track.”

EP's controversial plan to pump 5.3 million gallons of water a day from an unregulated area of groundwater in central Hays County has raised ire among residents who fear the project will drain their wells. It has also given rise to bills in the state Legislature aimed at protecting the groundwater.

Graham Moore, executive director of the Hays-Caldwell Public Utility Agency, said the agency is driving the conversations to help Buda shore up its water supply. The HCPUA is a partnership between the cities of San Marcos, Buda and Kyle as well as the Canyon Regional Water Authority to share groundwater from the Carrizo-Wilcox Aquifer in Caldwell County.

But several agreements must be executed before the city can be assured it will receive reserve water from its HCPUA partners. That process could take two to three months, he said.

The GBRA identified three scenarios in which Buda could obtain, through water sharing agreements, the 1 million gallons of water a day it is projecting to need by 2017, according to a March document from the river authority. The document states GBRA’s I-35 treated water delivery system—which serves the cities of Kyle and Buda as well as Sunfield Municipal Utility District, Goforth Special Utility District and Monarch Utilities—has 11.8 million gallons per day of capacity. That capacity is fully contracted but not fully used.

Buda is expected to need the interim water supply from 2017 to 2023, when water from its future permanent source, the Carrizo-Wilcox Aquifer, is expected to be available.

The scenario the partners are moving forward with to help Buda meet its demand calls for San Marcos and Kyle to share their available capacity in the treated water delivery system. The water would be delivered to Buda through a combination of the GBRA I-35 pipeline and the HCPUA Phase 1A pipeline from Kyle to Buda slated to come online in 2017, Moore said.

In exchange, Buda would pay for the cost of producing and delivering the water so that the sharing cities are not subsidizing Buda’s water customers, he said.

Infrastructure already exists to deliver water through the GBRA pipeline. However, the city would have to invest in some improvements if a water-sharing agreement were to take place.

Buda City Council held its first budget workshop for the 2015-16 budget on May 13. Both the EP water project and the sharing agreement would entail certain capital costs, and they each were presented as line items in the meeting.

The expense for GBRA infrastructure improvements is listed at about $1.27 million in the fiscal year 2015-16 budget, according to a city presentation from the May 13 meeting.

“Whether [infrastructure costs in connection with the potential sharing agreement] will be part of the [budget] or not remains to be seen,” Ruge said. “It’s prudent to put that in there as a possibility. We are under the assumption that, yes, this agreement can work. So we added infrastructure costs as part of it. Budget-wise, we have to prepare for everything.”

How a sharing agreement would affect Buda’s water rates will likely be determined once all parties finalize the agreement.

The EP water would total $6.37 million in costs to the city from 2016-2023, according to the presentation.

Buda faces a water shortage of 30,000 gallons of water a day beginning in 2017 if it is unable to secure an additional water source. The city’s deficit could climb to 950,000 gallons of water a day by 2023 if EP’s test wells do not prove adequate supply or quality for its proposed pumpage.

EP is in the midst of a nine-month feasibility period to determine whether the Cow Creek formation in the Middle Trinity Aquifer can produce enough good water to supply the city of Buda and Goforth Special Utility District, which supplies water to about 4,200 customers near the Hays, Caldwell and Travis county lines. A planned subdivision in Mountain City’s unincorporated area that has a contract in place with EP appears to be moving on to water from the city of Kyle as Mountain City could cede that land to Kyle.

Even if EP’s test wells establish there is enough quality groundwater, the city would still have to negotiate a mitigation plan City Council deems suitable for rural well users.

“We would sit down and try to hammer out a mitigation plan,” Ruge said. “It would be a plan that would have to be mutually agreed upon to make the contract whole.”
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