By Gudjon Berdmann
A hot start defined a water-centered Buda City Council meeting Tuesday night.
“Really pissed off!” “Will defend my land.” “Filing lawsuits.” “Our wells will go dry.” Angry citizens, some of whom were nearly in tears, made these and other comments at the March 17 meeting. Their anger stemmed from the now sanctioned Electro Purification project, which opponents fear may suck the Trinity Aquifer dry. However, no fresh news came out of the meeting about the EP project. Nonetheless, water was on the agenda.
Water supply projections
Drew Hardin, with Lockwood, Andrews and Newnam, presented water supply projections for the city of Buda to council members. The problem, according to his calculations, is closing a 3.6 million gallon a day gap that will exist in 2060, when demand will be at 5.6 million gallons a day.
Where to find those 3.6 million gallons? In the long run, the HCPUA (Hays Caldwell Public Utility Agency), and current providers, the BSEACD (Barton Springs/Edwards Aquifer Conservation District) and GBRA (Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority) will provide much of the water needed to fill that gap, but the HCPUA will not be functioning at full capacity until 2023.
What concerned Hardin was the time period between 2017 and 2023, when the city would fall well short of the projected demand, leaving a one million gallon a day gap that, he said, the controversial Electro Purification project would fill.
Why not slow growth?
According to Hardin’s projections, Buda will grow at a rate of approximately 11 percent annually, tripling the number of water connections in the city within the time period discussed.
Council member Bobby Lane asked, “If we can’t fulfill our obligations, can’t we at least slow the growth?”
The answer is no, according to the city attorney, due to the fact that Texas is a property owner centered state. If it’s owned and been zoned, then the state can supersede the city and issue building permits if the city has not provided them.
The exchange led to some further inquiries into the way in which the projections were calculated. Hardin pointed to the fact that these numbers were based on limited data and were best guess estimates, but as he led the council through the calculated process, it was clear they weren’t produced by a roll of the dice. He further pointed to the danger of comparing data with other cities, as each has its own unique needs.
Stick-and-carrot conservation efforts
Planning director Chance Sparks spoke at length about a Direct Potable Reuse Conservation Program being studied. City staff is looking at several other Texas cities that have implemented such programs with good results.
Sparks also mentioned two avenues of “revenue based water conservation”—the stick and carrot of conservation as he called them—which are currently under advisement and, if agreed upon, will be implemented in the new budget year.
The stick includes measures such as drought surcharges, seasonal rates and irrigation rates. The carrot is an incentive program for water users that will permit approximately $37,000 for retrofitting on a first come first serve basis in the new budget year.
Sparks said the success of these programs would depend heavily on education and participation, citing similar efforts in other cities. Findings will be presented to council early in May.