Texas planners envision a county-wide "grid" to provide clean water during droughts

Waco's Water

Texas planners envision a county-wide "grid" to provide clean water during droughts

In and around Waco, Texas, public officials are working to create a county-wide “water grid” that would enable various water suppliers to work together to conserve and share water during droughts.

According to the Waco Tribune-Herald, McLennan County, Texas, has launched a study to determine the best way to make sure water is available to the residents of Waco and the surrounding region by pooling the resources of various suppliers.

County judge Scott Felton, an advocate for sustainable water planning and conservation, is leading the effort. Last year, Felton brought together the McLennan County Water Resources Group to help communities plan for shortages of clean water and the advent of contaminated water. The group secured a $75,000 grant from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to help fund the study.

Others working with McLennan County on the study include cities in the region, water supply corporations, the Brazos River Authority, a groundwater conservation district, and local residents and businesses.

Felton told the Waco Tribune-Herald that good planning is necessary to make sure water is available when it’s needed.

“Ultimately, the idea is not to waste water,” he told the newspaper. “This grant allows us to customize a plan specific for our county and our different water districts on how we can better utilize… water and how to conserve water to be prepared for those very dry seasons like we’ve seen recently.”

Even though the Greater Waco region’s water supply is more plentiful than some areas in Texas, Felton warns that communities need to become less dependent
on groundwater from the shrinking Trinity Aquifer, which extends across central and northeastern Texas.

“What’s constant in this county is that our groundwater is going down, whether it’s raining or dry,” he said.

Tom Ray, water resources coordinator with Lockwood, Andrews & Newnam in Waco, the lead consultant on the study, told the Waco Tribune-Herald that the Trinity Aquifer is expected to drop between 250 and 450 feet by 2040. That’s as much as 19 feet a year in the Hewitt and Bellmead areas, which are expected to see the biggest drops.

County and city leaders say they envision a network of pipelines that could connect water users around the county and allow them to share water as needed. The final cost of that pipeline network is still under study.

The completed plan will establish a process for monitoring short-and long-term water availability, predict the probability for future droughts, evaluate the risks and impacts of drought, and prioritize mitigation actions.

Other ideas under study, according to the planners, include reclaiming more treated water from a regional sewer plant, making use of extensive water rights that the city has held in the Brazos River since 1914 (but does not use), and making more use of the Bluebonnet Water System, which draws water from Lake Belton.