Williamson County has been drought-free since October, according to the Office of the Texas State Climatologist. In 2015 parts of the county experienced an extra 2-12 inches of rain, or 110-125 percent above normal rainwater levels, according to the National Weather Service.
In December the Williamson County Commissioners Court decided to not take action on a plan that aimed to obtain groundwater from aquifers that lie east of the county and pipe it to storage areas in Williamson County. The plan’s presentation did, however, spur discussions on developing a plan that will determine the sources of water in Williamson County and look at future options that would meet water needs, and Williamson County Judge Dan Gattis said officials will be focusing on water this year.
Brazos G plan
Although Williamson County is not a water provider, the county aims to act as a facilitator to determine what the water needs are for the different cities and water users in the region, Precinct 3 Commissioner Valerie Covey said.
One resource the county plans to use is the 2016 Brazos G Regional Water Plan, which was developed by the Brazos G region of the Texas Water Development Board. The plan runs from 2020 to 2070 and looks at the current water supply and future water demands in the 36 counties that make up the region. It also lists future options that can be started now, said Gary Newman, who represents Williamson County on the Brazos G board.
The 2016 plan was released in December and sent to TWDB officials, who could review and approve the plan around May, Newman said.
“From the needs and supply, we come up with strategies to meet those needs,” he said. “That’s the most important part of the 50-year study—how we’re trying to meet those needs.”
According to the Brazos G plan, the amount of water needed by water users in its region currently falls below the amount of water that is supplied, though the regional water group is predicting that to change with an increase in population. The county could start to see water issues in 2030, with cities such as Hutto, Round Rock, Leander and Georgetown growing the fastest, Newman said.
According to data from the U.S. Census Bureau most recently updated in 2014, the population in Williamson County was nearing 500,000. By 2070, Newman estimates the county population to reach 1.5 million, and the Brazos G board predicts the need for water in the county to have risen higher than the available supply.
The plan lists some possible options to meet those future water needs. One strategy is to utilize water from the Highland Lakes system and pipe it to different areas in the county. Another is to utilize Trinity Aquifer wells to keep Lake Granger wells full during times of drought, Newman said.
The plan also lists looking at the Carrizo-Wilcox aquifer in East Texas to see if groundwater is still available, but that option can be tricky since water rights typically exist for river and groundwater supply. However, these options would only meet short-term water needs, Newman said.
Some other alternatives include reducing the amount of water consumption in households, which Newman said would be a key strategy for the county. Other options include building an off-channel reservoir that would act as a storage tank by Lake Whitney in Bosque and Hill counties, which would pump water from Lake Granger into an aquifer during times of heavy rain. Diverting parts of the San Gabriel River into Lake Georgetown would also provide water for both Georgetown and Round Rock.
Some of these options can be expensive, Newman said. Building off-channel reservoirs can cost more than $100 million and can take several years to be permitted and built.
“That’s one reason we do 50-year plans, because some of these [options] may not come to supply water for 30 or 40 years,” he said.
Williamson County plan
Although the Brazos G plan covers the sources of water and lists future water options in Williamson County, Landy Warren, the president of the Lone Star Regional Water Authority in Jarrell, said it can sometimes be difficult to get different cities and municipalities to agree on some of the data presented in the regional plan. Williamson County leaders hope to create a plan for the county with participation from area cities and water municipalities.
Warren said nearly all cities and municipal utility districts currently purchase and distribute water individually. He is hoping the water users can come together and devise a regional plan that would allow each group to share the cost.
“If we could come up with regional plan through bulk purchasing power and splitting of costs, we could provide the amount of water necessary to take care of Williamson County in 10, 15, 20, 40 [or] 50 years,” he said. “We believe a regional plan would be cheaper than a whole bunch of individual plans, but we need a study to determine that.”
Covey agreed that a regional plan is a possible option, but said such a plan is an ongoing subject that will take time, numerous discussions and possibly legislative action to address water needs at a state level. For now, county leaders are focused on meeting with the different entities throughout the county that sell water.
“Looking at what the need is and what the water sources are is key to moving forward, and we’re concerned about the whole county and how future water issues will be addressed,” she said. “I think we’re going to continue having this dialogue, because I think it’s important for the future build-out of the county.”
The Brazos G board is also looking into completing an enhanced study on Williamson County, Newman said. He said he hopes the county and the cities can work together on the countywide plan.
Both Round Rock and Hutto officials say they have plenty of water for decades to come.
Round Rock is part of the Brushy Creek Regional Utility Authority, which is a partnership among the city, Cedar Park and Leander. The entity was formed for the cities to be able to access Lake Travis water, which they have not had to do yet.
Round Rock Utilities Director Michael Thane said the city is “very comfortable” with the water it has under contract until its projected population build-out of 250,000 people.
“With [access to] the Edwards Aquifer, reuse water and water conservation, putting all those together we can meet the future needs of our community,” Thane said.
He said water consumption has gone down in the city even as the population has increased. He said the city lifted drought restrictions in May, and officials do not want to lose the momentum they gained in water conservation efforts.
“Comparing this summer with no restrictions with last year will be a good indicator of if [residents] will still be conscientious [of their water use],” he said.
Hutto Assistant City Manager Micah Grau said the city shored up long-term water contracts with Heart of Texas Water, Manville Water Supply Corp. and the city of Taylor. He said Hutto has contracts with those entities for the next 40 years.
“We do have a bit of a surplus [of water],” Grau said. “We’re working with our [economic development corporation] to attract businesses, and having water is part of that.”
Grau said Hutto has also looked at possibly selling some of its surplus water.