Water restrictions to continue into fall; LUEs dwindling

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By Rachel Madison

The City of Liberty Hill’s water woes might get worse before they get better, due to a shrinking supply of water coming from the City of Leander.

According to a statement released by the City of Liberty Hill, a breaker at the Leander treatment plant malfunctioned on July 28, causing a depletion in the water tanks. Although the equipment was repaired, water demand due to seasonal irrigation kept the tanks from fully refilling. That’s when the City of Liberty Hill moved to Stage 2 restrictions.

Later, on Aug. 23, Leander asked Liberty Hill to reduce its daily flow rate from 300 to 500 gallons per minute down to 200 gallons per minute, to reduce the rate of water drawn from Leander’s elevated storage tank. That flow reduction helped Leander to replenish its daily supply and maintain ample pressure for all the customers served from that tank, according to the statement.

Liberty Hill is anticipated to remain in Stage 2 until at least November, but things can change quickly, said Public Works Manager Jay Holmes.

“Leander has us cut down to 200 gallons a minute,” he said. “[On Sept. 1,] we started the clock to move into Stage 3, which means no outdoor watering, period. We are over 90 percent production versus use.”

In Stage 2, outside watering using landscape irrigation systems, automatic sprinkler systems, and hose-end sprinklers is prohibited. Customers are allowed to use hand-held hoses, a bucket or watering can of five gallons or less, or drip irrigation system, only during designated days between 8 p.m. and 10 a.m. Customers with a street address ending in an even number may water on Mondays, while those with a street address ending in an odd number may water on Thursdays. In Stage 3, all water use is prohibited except for a livestock or other exemption or variance.

It’s not just current water customers that could be affected by this shortage.

Council member Chris Pezold told The Independent Wednesday what he previously presented to the Economic Development Corp. on Aug. 18 that he learned about one month after he joined the council that city staff and engineers realized that former Mayor Rick Hall had not secured a contract with Leander for an additional 600-acre feet on Lake Travis, which the two cities had agreed upon while he was in office. However, because Hall did not secure the contract, Liberty Hill never received that water, which comes in at about 1,500 Living Unit Equivalents (LUEs).

Hall did not respond by press time Wednesday to a request from The Independent for an interview.

“Rick didn’t close the deal with Leander, so he put everybody into a state of not having enough water,” Pezold said. “We’ve got giant developments at our door wanting to come in. We need to get this taken care of quickly. The prior administration and council did not look to the future, and they did not make the decisions necessary to go after the resources we need. Right now we’re uncovering their neglect.”

Each home built is the equivalent of one LUE at 200 gallons per day, and after discovering there are less than 500 LUEs left for the area that the City provides water to, Pezold is concerned that developments will be negatively impacted.

“We’ve got to be a good neighbor with builders,” he said. “There may be some serious conversations that come up, because if you look where we are at right now, we have less than 500 LUEs available to our entire area we supply water to. If you subtract out the number of LUEs that have been requested by projects but haven’t purchased yet, that takes us down to under 200 LUEs that are available. That’s frightening.”

Pezold attributed the information to City Administrator Lacie Hale and City Engineer Curtis Steger, whose calculations were based on standards set by Texas Commission on Environmental Quality regarding the amount of water that can be provided.

“That’s where I came up with this number we are so deficient on,” Pezold said. “This is all a result of former administration not doing the proper planning and taking proper courses of action to close contracts.”

At the most recent City Council meeting Sept. 1, officials discussed what steps could be taken to prevent the City from moving into Stage 3 water restrictions.

“What do we need to do as a council to get with Leander and figure out why they are receiving more water than us?” asked Council member Angela Jones.

“Why do we have to move into Stage 3 if [Leander] isn’t suffering the same amount as us?” asked Council member Kathy Canady.

Hale said Liberty Hill’s Stage 2 is equivalent to Leander’s Stage 1, which is why Leander isn’t being affected like Liberty Hill. Hale added that Liberty Hill moved into Stage 2 because the parameters were met according to the City’s Drought Contingency and Emergency Water Demand Management Plan, and that in the future, council could change those parameters.

Hale added she is working with the City’s legal team to review the water use contract with the City of Leander to see if any action can be taken.

In the meantime, two short-term projects have been initiated to try to move the City out of Stage 2, including a change to the San Gabriel Parkway water line, which will involve the construction of a 24-inch water line along San Gabriel Parkway from CR 270 to Ronald Reagan Boulevard. This project will allow water to move from east to west through Leander’s distribution system.

The second project is the Bagdad-Brushy Creek Regional Utility Authority (BCRUA) interconnect water line, which will involve the construction of a 24-inch water line from New Hope Road to Kettering Drive along a public utility easement east of Bagdad Road. This water line will allow for the north and southwest areas of Leander to receive water from the BCRUA water treatment plant.

When it comes to long-term remedies for the City’s water restrictions, city staff has a few ideas they are working on, said Hale, which will reduce the city’s dependency on Leander’s water.

“We are working to find adjacent entities that can offer us additional resources like well sites,” Hale said. “We are also looking at increasing the capacity for our current infrastructure. We are still in negotiations for those factors we need more time to put those out in public, but we are actively negotiating for these additional resources.”

According to the statement posted by the City on its website, the City is not running out of water.

“There is an adequate supply of water at this time,” according to the announcement. “The restrictions have been implemented because there has been a reduction of treated water. Liberty Hill is actively monitoring growth and implementing plans for more treatment options.”

“When we go to Stage 3, it’s going to be bad,” said Canady. “[Leander is] holding our feet to the fire and in order for us to survive we’re going to have to possibly go to Stage 3. That’s just not right.”

Pezold said within the next month, he and Jones plan to co-sponsor a town hall meeting for the community to discuss the city’s water issues. He added that he is optimistic about future water supply.

“Things look incredibly good with the opportunities coming our way, and we’re anxious to have a town hall and talk about it,” he said. “I feel confident about where we are going. Right now, it’s not under control, but we hope to give a report soon that it will be.”

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