Texas implementing new technologies to address strained water supplies
According to new Fitch Ratings, Texas water utilities are increasingly relying on new technologies to address strained water supplies as the state grapples with the diverging pressures of continued drought and rapid population growth.
AUSTIN, TEXAS, Feb. 9, 2015 -- According to new Fitch Ratings, Texas water utilities are increasingly relying on new technologies to address strained water supplies as the state grapples with the diverging pressures of continued drought and rapid population growth. As demand for water has outpaced new supply, technologies such as direct potable reuse (DPR) and desalinization, as well as new infrastructure funded by public-private partnerships (PPPs) such as San Antonio's Vista Ridge Pipeline, have emerged as solutions to ease the burden on utilities.
In Texas, the Colorado River Municipal Water District and Wichita Falls, for example, have implemented DPR, which provides about 7 million gallons of water per day (MGD) between the two entities, or between 30 to 40 percent of daily demand. DPR is the process of treating wastewater effluent to drinkable standards, then mixing the treated water with raw water supplies without the use of an environmental buffer such as an aquifer or reservoir.
"As water utilities around the state deal with the tug-of-war between growth and drought, their choice to innovate is more than sensible," said Teri Wenck, associate director of Fitch's U.S. public finance department. "Finding creative ways to recycle, reuse or share water may be the future for drought-stricken communities" (see: "Battling Water Scarcity: DPR Poised as Future of Water Recycling").
Despite the benefits, DPR can face significant hurdles in public perception and often comes with a high price tag. The cost of Colorado River Municipal Water District's water plant for DPR totaled $12 million, whereas Wichita Falls totaled $13 million. Desalinization, while not new in Texas, has also resurfaced as a solution, with the San Antonio Water System breaking ground on a three-phase, $411-million project that will eventually yield up to 30 MGD.
As other water retailers such as El Paso and McAllen look to diversify their water sources, final costs remain to be seen. Proposition 6, approved by Texas voters in November 2013, made $2 billion from the state's rainy day fund available for qualifying programs associated with future water supplies. Other programs such as San Antonio's Vista Ridge Pipeline have turned to PPPs to fund necessary infrastructure.