District marks milestone

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Al Key/DRC
Tim Brazile, Upper Trinity Regional Water District water operations superintendent, inspects a settling basin where more than 90 percent of the particulate matter and bacteria have been removed with coagulants, while a duck floats by Tuesday in Lewisville.
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LEWISVILLE — Officials at Upper Trinity Regional Water District know that water conservation and efficiency have become the newest path for additional water supplies statewide, meeting 24 percent of the state’s needs in the next 50 years.

But that math can’t do all the work needed for fast-growing Denton and Collin counties.

“There’s no way 100,000 customers can save enough to provide for a million customers,” said Tom Taylor, the district’s executive director.

The district was formed 25 years ago this month to help meet the region’s water needs. Denton and Collin counties were back then, and remain today, among the fastest-growing counties in the state.

In 1986, local water systems, including the municipal systems in Denton and Lewisville, used groundwater. They knew that they were drawing from the aquifers faster than nature was replenishing them, Taylor said. The area wouldn’t be able to grow much more without finding new sources of water.

The district is, in essence, a regional cooperative that has grown to $45.4 million in annual operating revenue from supplying drinking water and treating wastewater for two dozen cities, utility districts and water corporations.

The district negotiated a contract with the city of Dallas to use some of the water in Lewisville and Ray Roberts lakes. Then the district went about the business of building pump stations, pipelines and treatment plants to bring that water to nearly all of its member cities and return cleaned water to the lakes.

To address needs 50 years into the future, the district also pursued the right to build Lake Ralph Hall in the Sulphur River basin. The controversial project in southeastern Fannin County was opposed by some environmentalists and even one of its own customers, the town of Flower Mound.

When the district received the state permit for Lake Ralph Hall last year, it was the first major reservoir Texas had approved in 30 years.

The district has been acquiring land and working on the lake’s design while it awaits federal permits from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, anticipated in 12 to 18 months, Taylor said. Unlike the other lakes in the district, the corps will not be involved in the construction or management of Lake Ralph Hall.

The 11,000-acre reservoir is expected to supply 30 million to 45 million gallons of water per day by 2025, not long after the district must renew its agreement with the city of Dallas.

The project is projected to cost about $286 million and will likely get help from Proposition 6, bonds approved by Texas voters for water development projects.

Not all the bond money will go to building new reservoirs, however. Proposed rules for using the bond money reflect the new emphasis on conservation, a value that the district has tried to inspire as it grows, Taylor said.

Policymakers, landscape professionals, Master Gardeners and others visit the water-wise organic demonstration gardens on district grounds to learn more. Taylor said he believes the gardens have gone a long way to change local practices. Even the mowing crew navigates around an old oak tree that is home to a large beehive, rather than bring in an exterminator.

The district has neither the carrots nor the sticks to do much more than that, Taylor said. The district was created by the Texas Legislature without the authority to tax or to write ordinances.

Jason Pierce, the district’s manager of watershed and contract services, has sample ordinances that, when cities adopt them, align local enforcement with the region’s conservation needs.

In other words, if the district advises limiting outdoor watering, a city’s code enforcement officers can make sure residents keep it to two days per week.

The district has a way to go to get its customers to conserve to the goal of the state’s water plan: 140 gallons per capita daily. Only a handful of cities in the district have reported lower consumption to the Texas Water Development Board, according to that agency’s most recent survey.

Many more member cities and utility districts, including Argyle, Bartonville, Castle Hills, Cross Roads, Highland Village, Krum and Lantana, reported more than 200 gallons per capita daily. Among the district’s members, Flower Mound reported the highest rate of consumption, at 238 gallons.

Pierce said the district is working on a new program to provide water audits.

The district plans to target residential customers first, helping them locate leaks and inefficiencies. Later, the district may offer the audits to commercial and industrial customers who need help finding ways to reduce their use.

“We’re starting small,” Pierce said.

PEGGY HEINKEL-WOLFE can be reached at 940-566-6881 and via Twitter at @phwolfeDRC.


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