Greater Houston Borrows $2.9-Billion To Keep Up With Water Demands

The State water development board gave local authorities $241-million. The goal is to replace ground wells as a major supply of drinking water around Houston.

Houston is America’s fourth-largest city. As it continues to grow, so does the need for water. With that in mind the city and other regional water authorities are preparing for future needs.

Bech Bruun, the Chairman of the Texas Water Development Board, says the city is taking the initiative to meet the needs of a growing population, especially when it comes to drinking water.

“The city is being very proactive in their planning and working towards implementing a plan to insure they have the water they’re going to need for decades to come,” Bruun says.

The city is also looking to comply with Harris-Galveston Subsidence District guidelines. The district was created by the Texas Legislature in 1975 to regulate groundwater withdrawal throughout Harris and Galveston counties. The goal is to prevent land subsidence, which leads to increased flooding.

To build the necessary infrastructure, water authorities are taking advantage of Proposition 6. Approved by Texas voters in 2013, the proposition provides low interest loans for water projects in the state through the State Water Implementation Fund for Texas, or “SWIFT.”  

Greater Houston is taking full advantage.

“North Harris County Regional Water Authority to date, is the single largest user-borrower of the SWIFT program,” Bruun says. 

Local water authorities have borrowed almost $3-billion so far. During a Texas Water Development Board meeting in Austin, North Harris County Regional Water Authority received an additional $225-million, while the Central Harris County Regional Water Authority got an additional $15-million.

SWIFT Funding

Most of the money is devoted to increasing the supply of drinking water the area currently receives from Lake Houston. To do so, authorities will tackle two major goals; expand the Northeast Water Purification Plant, and complete the Luce Bayou Interbasin Transfer Project

Jeff Benjamin, the Project Director for the plant expansion, says the funds allow Houston to comply with future regulations.

“The city and the Regional Water Authorities all have a mandate to convert their ground water to surface water by roughly 60 percent by the year 2025. The real purpose of the project was to replace a lot of the drinking water ground wells that are around the region to meet the surface water mandates of the Harris-Galveston County Subsidence District,” he says.

The “transfer project” will bring water approximately 17 miles from the Trinity River into Luce Bayou on the northeast end of Lake Houston.

“What they’re doing is they’re going to construct a pump station on the Trinity River. That pump station will feed a interconnecting network of canals and pipelines between the Trinity River and Lake Houston,” says Benjamin. The project is expected to be completed by 2019. 

Expanding the Northeast Water Purification Plant will be completed in two phases. The first phase is set to be completed in 2021, with the second phase finishing in 2024.

Bruun says when operational, the expanded facilities should quadruple the supply of drinking water from Lake Houston.