Liberty Hill reaches agreement with City of Leander to access water in Lake Travis

By SHELLY WILKISON

Triple-digit temperatures returned to Liberty Hill this month amid reports of ever-declining water levels in city wells.

However, the City of Liberty Hill inched its way closer to long-term relief Monday when the City Council approved an interlocal agreement with the City of Leander. The agreement, which takes effect pending the approval of the Leander City Council, will allow Liberty Hill to gain access to its reserved water in Lake Travis. Local taxpayers have been paying for 600 acre feet of water in Lake Travis since 2002 at the rate of about $40,000 per year.

“This is a major breakthrough for the City of Liberty Hill,” said interim City Manager Greg Boatright.  “This is huge for the City. We will have the ability to supply water to existing customers and allow for future growth for 10-15 years.”

Like many Texas communities, the City of Liberty Hill and the Liberty Hill Water Supply Corp. (the City’s predecessor in the water supply business) has been struggling to keep up with the growing population’s demand for water in a drought-stricken state. This year, the City added two wells to its five existing wells, but supply is still short as water tables drop and insufficient rainfall northwest of Liberty Hill has caused water tables to drop.

As population booms in the Liberty Hill school district and city officials consider plans for future residential developments, the news couldn’t have come at a better time.

Prior to the Council’s unanimous approval of the interlocal agreement, elected officials learned of a developer’s plans to build 330 single-family homes inside the city limits. The proposed Liberty Parke subdivision will rely on city water and wastewater service.

Although details of the interlocal agreement with Leander were not discussed in open meeting Monday, Boatright later told The Independent that the estimated 13 miles of infrastructure needed to get the water from Lake Travis to Liberty Hill will cost about $2 million and it could take as long as 18 months before local residents see the water. However, he was quick to add that the $2 million is an “initial estimate.”

He said the City of Liberty Hill will be responsible for constructing the line from here to the City of Leander’s jurisdiction on Bagdad Road — about 4.5 miles. He said the line, which will be owned and maintained by the City, will connect to Liberty Hill’s water supply at the well on Stubblefield Lane.

The 40-year agreement calls for Leander to deliver 1.4 million gallons of treated water per day. He said it will require an eight-inch line, but Leander will replace it with larger pipe at some point in their jurisdiction and assume 35 percent of that cost.

To take delivery of the water will cost the City $2.75 per 1,000 gallons and there will be no daily limit.

Currently, the City is paying Chisholm Trail Special Utility District $4.22 per 1,000 gallons and the City is limited to 50,000 gallons per water per day.

“This will lower our costs and allow us to actually make some money on the water we receive. It will help our customers save money,” Boatright said.

Boatright said with the number of rooftops projected in the next five to 10 years within the city’s water service area, the additional water should safely carry Liberty Hill through about 10 years. He added that the Lower Colorado River Authority is not likely to consider approving addtional capacity out of the Colorado basin due to drought conditions.

To pay for the infrastructure, Boatright said the City will likely pursue funding from the Texas Water Development Board.

Boatright said the City will need to make some decisions in the coming weeks about whether the line will follow the County right of way or whether the City should seek easements to place the line outside the right of way.

“Anytime Bagdad Road is expanded, we would be responsible for paying to replace that line. We will have to weigh the costs of time it will take to get easements and the timing and need for delivery of the water,” he said. “We will discuss that in upcoming negotiations.”

Even though it will take about two years to see the benefits of the additional water source, Boatright said the City of Liberty Hill is equipped to handle the new water customers that may come with the proposed Liberty Parke, as well as two other rental communities that may come into the city within the next 12 months.

“We will supplement our current water supply with Chisholm Trail, and we may have to negotiate with them for additional capacity. But no doubt we can meet the needs there until we take delivery on the water from Lake Travis,” he said.

Earlier in the meeting Monday, utility Superintendent Brian Kirk told the Council that water levels had dropped two feet in city wells since the last council meeting June 24. And on June 24, Kirk said water levels had dropped two feet from June 10.

“That’s going to be the trend for now,” Kirk said. “There’s been no rain up river. The City’s water rationing program needs to be adhered to and enforced. We will be watching for people watering plants and washing cars.”

Liberty Hill city residents and businesses have been prohibited from outdoor watering for two years. Violators are subject to fines and service disconnection.

Boatright credited the Council and Mayor Jamie Williamson for “getting the ball rolling” to develop the agreement.

“I may have pushed it to the finish line, but the Council had the foresight to push the issue. The Mayor initiated it along with the city engineer. And Wendell (McLeod) was also instrumental in that. While the agreement changed some since those initial meetings, it is still mostly in tact.”