By Moses Leos III
At a cost of $400 million, the Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority (GBRA) is moving forward with its plan to get its Mid Basin water supply system operational by as soon as 2018.
While large financing questions loom, GBRA General Manager Bill West believes the project is “absolutely necessary” for the growth of the region, which includes south and east Hays County.
“This project represents a regional project that supplies water to municipalities, cities and water supply corporations, and supplies water to a growing area that needs water,” West said. “Without it, growth won’t occur.”
The Mid Basin project is a “combination” of surface water, groundwater and aquifer storage and recovery. According to West, the project is proposed to deliver 50,000 acre feet of water, with the potential to expand that amount to 100,000 acre feet.
Surface water would come from the confluence of the San Marcos and the Guadalupe Rivers in Gonzales County. Groundwater would come from the Carrizo Springs aquifer.
West said the aquifer storage and recovery component is “unique” as it helps mitigate the impact on the aquifer.
“It’s where you can take excess water in times of plenty and store the water in the aquifer, so that in times of need, you can access it,” West said. He added that at times of excess river flow, GBRA’s project would treat the water and replenish the aquifer.
According to West, several potential customers may use water from the Mid Basin project. Customers could include the Walton Development group, which has acquired 10,000 acres in various parcels across Hays and Caldwell Counties.
Walton Development is planning two subdivisions, Pecan Woods and Kyle Estates, along FM 150 East in Kyle. He also said the General Land Office could be a customer to provide water to its tracts in Hays County.
What remains to be seen is if Buda could become a potential customer as well. Buda is currently facing a potential water shortage by 2017. The city has taken steps, such as entering into a water sharing agreement with Kyle and San Marcos, to provide water in the interim period of the Hays Caldwell Public Utility Agency’s xxxx million project.
Buda Mayor Todd Ruge said the city wants to look at every option they can, and that the GBRA’s project is one they’ll consider.
“This is more of a long term solution, perhaps,” Ruge said. “We have time to look at it, and at some point, bring some of our findings to council.”
Financing the project is a question that remains unanswered. He said the GBRA is working with the Texas Water Development Board to carry 50 percent of the capital costs for 15 years. It would allow the project to build a customer base and “pay the state back.” In turn, the project cost would be lessened.
In order to do that, the GBRA must obtain permits from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) to obtain water from its proposed sources. That hit a snag when the GBRA was involved in litigation over its project affecting endangered whooping cranes.
With the “legal cloud lifted,” West said the TCEQ is processing its permit, which he said could be done “by this time next year.”
He added the GBRA would be ready to begin construction of the project, which he anticipates taking 24 to 36 months to complete; he estimates the project to go online by 2018.
In addition, West believes cost savings could occur if the GBRA, the Texas Water Alliance and the HCPUA combine their three water projects into one that shares facilities and infrastructure. All three projects desire to obtain their water from parts of Caldwell and Gonzales County.
While West didn’t have an estimate, he said the “unit cost will be lower than a stand alone” project.
But Ruge didn’t believe the three entities could work together as one.
“On paper that sounds good. But I’m not as optimistic,” Ruge said. “All three are going to make a go on their own. Once water is online, that’s something that can be addressed.”
Buda council member Angela Kennedy said she was interested in knowing if it is feasible for all three projects to combine. But she said while the project has been vetted, the timeline is “aggressive.”
“If it’s the most cost effective for everyone, why wouldn’t we do it?” Kennedy said. “But as we’ve learned from previous water supply projects, it takes a lot of folks, time and communication to make things happen.”
For Ruge, the project is one of a laundry list that the city had once sought for, but didn’t find, several years ago.
“Now all of a sudden we have so many we have to form a subcommittee to work through them,” Ruge said. “It’s a good problem to have.”