Is Buda backing off water deal?

By Moses Leos III 

Is the city of Buda trying to wipe its hands of a controversial water deal with Electro Purification (EP)? 

It may appear that way to some who are watching as the city seems to be backing off its contract with EP.

Mayor Todd Ruge said in a recent interview the city has been trying to find an alternate water source for years as it recognized it may struggle to provide its citizens with water as soon as 2017.

“One of my jobs, and it’s by law, is I have to provide service to city residents. If we see a deficiency, we must fill that gap. We have a gap in providing water for 6-8 years until HCPUA project comes online,” he said.

The Hays Caldwell Public Utility Agency (HCPUA) is in the process of building a pipeline that would service Buda and other local entities, but that project is not expected to come online until about 2023, leaving Buda with a potential six or seven year gap.

In the meantime, Buda signed a 30-year contract with the private water firm EP. And while not many Buda residents criticized the move, according to Ruge, that was not the case among residents on the western side of Hays County where EP built its test wells. 

What have since been dubbed the Hays County Water Wars pit EP customers Buda, the proposed Anthem development and Goforth Special Utility District against environmental and activists groups like CARD, Hays County Water Facts, Hays County Watchdogs and others.

Why is Buda now testing out the waters with a new provider?

Ruge said it’s because other players have come back to the table. He said the city previously looked at many different options but few seemed viable at the time. 

“A lot were unavailable before but they seem to be back at the table,” he said.

He said he wanted to dispel rumors, mostly found on the Internet, that Buda is refusing alternate water sources.

“That is not the case at all — we are actively pursuing alternate sources,” he said. “Council’s desire is to find alternate sources of water.”

He added, “Our hope is we can still find one. EP wasn’t our first choice.”

Would Buda dissolve its EP contract if it found an alternate, viable water source?

“If we are able to secure another water source, we can definitely reevaluate current water sources with which we have water contracts,” he said.

One option back at the table is Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority (GBRA), or more specifically, the city of Kyle. It’s current contract with GBRA allows for pumping of up to 9 million gallons daily.

Mayor Todd Webster said in a recent interview that on peak days, Kyle currently uses about 3 million gallons.

“We were planning for the future,” Webster said of why Kyle has the option to pump six million gallons a day more than it needs.

But Ruge didn’t want to put the cart in front of the horse.

“We still don’t formally have [the water],” he said during the city’s budget retreat on May 13. “We’re under the impression that it could happen. We’re moving forward in talking with our partners.” 

According to Graham Moore, executive director of the Hays Caldwell Public Utility Agency (HCPUA), the agency discovered Kyle and San Marcos would be willing to share excess water it receives from the Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority (GBRA). 

Moore said its part of the agency’s tactic to help Buda as they continue working toward their Carrizo-Wilcox pipeline project. 

HCPUA is constructing a 45-mile pipeline to funnel water from the Carrizo-Wilcox aquifer to its partners. 

“Our intent is to bridge the gap between now and when the project comes online, so Buda has water to meet those needs,” Moore said. 

As recently as six weeks ago, Moore said Kyle and Buda reassessed their water inventories from GBRA. He said the entities made the commitment that they “had extra water available.” 

But Moore said both entities must restructure their existing contracts to allow for water sharing. 

It would allow GBRA to pipe the million gallons per day, which was to be used by Kyle and San Marcos, directly to Buda instead. That would be done by either pumping water through Buda’s existing GBRA pipeline under IH-35, or via the impending HCPUA pipeline connecting Buda and Kyle. 

While Moore said restructuring wouldn’t be “overly challenging,” he said it would take time to review the changes. 

Moore said the agency, which is facilitating the contract changes, plans to complete them within the next two to three months.  

Buda will be required to make improvements to infrastructure to accommodate for the increase. In addition, the city must assess if they can receive the water in the “right locations and amounts and how it can be moved through the system,” Moore said. 

The city will also be required to pay replacement water cost to both cities. At this time, Moore said an exact amount has not been finalized. Buda must also follow a “take or pay” format with the cities. 

“Yes, it costs you some money today, but also gives you the surety that you are paying for that water and it's committed to Buda,” Moore told city officials at the budget retreat. 

Ruge was waiting on the discovery of excess water. He said Buda city officials were waiting on engineering reports “to see if it was actually feasible.” 

While he said city was aware there could have been water available from GBRA, he said the city was not “ducking or refusing water.” 

Ultimately, he believes it could be a “win-win situation for everyone involved.” It could also allow Buda to take a look at its future water plans.

“We’ve been trying to secure these million gallons for five plus years,” Ruge said. “If we can get this interim water… it would put us in a position where we can reevaluate all of our future water needs.” 

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