NFBWA DELIVERS WATER AHEAD OF SCHEDULE
North Fort Bend Water Authority (“NFBWA” or “Authority”) has delivered its first surface water to homeowners in northeast Fort Bend County more than two years ahead of its mandate from the Fort Bend Subsidence District.
Engineers opened a valve March 7 to connect Fort Bend County Municipal Utility District (“MUD”) 2, to water from the D-158 water plant, supplied by the City of Houston, which draws on a surface water supply from the Trinity River. Water delivery to Kingsbridge MUD (which also supplies Fort Bend Fresh Water Supply District #2) and North Mission Glen MUD followed later this spring. By July, the Authority expects to add Fort Bend MUD 41 and Fort Bend MUD 119 to its delivery system.
By beginning the important conversion earlier than required, the Authority earns valuable “early conversion credits” that can be applied toward meeting future conversion goals.
The Authority -- which encompasses 69 utility districts and the City of Fulshear -- is under mandate from the Fort Bend Subsidence District to reduce its dependence on groundwater 30 percent by 2013. Over-pumping of groundwater is responsible for subsidence across the region, which can cause flooding and foundation problems, and can permanently impact the aquifer as well. Under the Authority’s mandate, alternate water supplies must replace a percentage of the groundwater now pumped by 139 permitted wells within Authority boundaries. Reducing groundwater 30 percent means replacing roughly 14.5 million gallons per day (MGD).
“It’s a great thing that we’ve been able to deliver surface water earlier than required,” says NFBWA board president, Peter Houghton. “We can use the conversion credits to push off big capital expenditures into the future. By postponing construction, we can buy ourselves some time and save our customers some money.”
Authority engineer Melinda Silva, of Brown and Gay Engineers, says conversion credits, which are measured in thousands of gallons, serve as an “insurance policy” that can protect the Authority against unforeseen service interruptions or delays. The Authority’s goal is to have half a year’s worth of conversion credits, she said.
Conversion to surface water is a massive and expensive undertaking. In little more than a year’s time, the Authority has installed approximately 98,000 linear feet or nearly 19 miles of water line to connect the MUDs of north Fort Bend County with the Authority’s new surface water system. That is approximately 40 percent of the waterlines required to meet the 2013 conversion deadline, says Silva.
So far, the Authority has designed 15 projects, with six complete and nine under construction. Construction cost of awarded projects is $37 million as of early June, 2011. The Authority has leased and reopened an inactive City of Houston water plant near Bellaire Boulevard and Synott Road to push water to the MUDs, while engineers plan and construct a permanent Bellaire Pump Station.
Fourteen additional projects are in design.
Conversion is progressing generally east to west, starting at the Authority’s “take point” or connection with the Houston water system.
Through April 2011, the NFBWA has delivered 25 million gallons of surface water to its first MUDs, or 1.2 percent of total NFBWA demand. The Authority expects to convert approximately 15 percent by the end of 2011, and 30 percent by the end of 2012 – well ahead of the FBSD’s 2013 deadline.
Eventually, it will cost billions of dollars -- not millions -- to convert the Greater Houston region to surface water, Authority officials say.
“We can no longer pump out of water wells in our neighborhoods,” said Houghton. “Very few people have heard that we need to convert to alternative water sources, such as surface water. It’s a massive effort to pipe water from Lake Houston and the Trinity River across the Houston region. Water rates will rise and will rise fairly dramatically. We want people to be aware of that.”
To date, the NFBWA has issued $200 million in bonds to finance design and construction of a pump station, transmission lines, and storage facilities, for capital payments to the City of Houston for water supply facilities, and to acquire necessary property and easements.
The Authority expects to issue another $90 million in bonds in the fall of 2011, which will provide the necessary financing to complete 2013 surface water conversion requirements. The bonds will be repaid through pumpage fees and surface water fees charged to the MUDs and city within NFBWA boundaries and contract participants.
Houghton said the Authority -- thanks to diligent effort and current market conditions -- has been able to construct much of the first phase of new infrastructure at a cost significantly less than originally estimated. The $37 million in projects already complete or under construction has cost $6 million less than conceptual estimates.
Whenever possible, the Authority is routing new lines along existing utility easements.
“We took a very careful look at all our routing alternatives and selected the ones with the least impact on existing residents and which allowed us to construct as soon as possible,” Houghton said. “That combination enabled us to deliver water earlier than required.”
While reducing the more inconvenient and noticeable aspects of groundwater conversion is a plus for residents, the Authority also wants to make the process as transparent as possible, Houghton said. The Authority publishes a newsletter for residents within its boundaries; schedules public meetings during evening hours; and sends its engineers to MUD meetings to keep officials up to date on important Authority developments to ensure the public is kept informed of the Authority’s progress.
Silva said working with MUD representatives has helped smooth and speed the process.
“Complying with the conversion mandate involves a partnership between the Authority and the MUDs,” Silva said. “We’ve worked very hard to let the MUDs know what is going to happen, and to make sure that residents were aware of construction routes and informed ahead of time when construction would take place. I think that made all the difference in the world.”
Another Authority priority is to promote water conservation and improve efficiency – in both how we produce and how we consume water. Using our finite water resources more efficiently is not a luxury, but an absolute necessity. The Authority has launched a very aggressive outreach and education program to stress the importance of using water wisely for both students and adults. (Watch the Facebook page for more information on this program!)