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Water district overbuilding costs residents

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Our water bills in Double Oak, Copper Canyon, and Bartonville are already high and heavily influenced by the cost of wholesale water from the Upper Trinity Regional Water District (UTRWD).  Most of us in this neck of the woods get our water from Bartonville Water Supply Corporation (BWSC).  BWSC has a contract to buy a large volume of surface water from UTRWD.  At the present time, BWSC may not reduce its commitment.  We have to pay for it whether we use it or not so we use it.  It’s difficult for BWSC to control rates under these circumstances.

In my opinion, using surface water is a good thing to do.  It’s rainwater and even recycled waste water that has been collected in man-made lakes.  Much of UTRWD surface water comes from Lake Lewisville.  I believe that they buy it from Dallas who owns those water rights.  UTRWD then purifies, filters, and delivers it to Flower Mound, BWSC and many other water retailers.

BWSC, a cooperative and non-profit organization, also owns and operates its own wells.  BWSC well water costs less to produce than the water purchased from UTRWD.  Over the years of its existence, UTRWD has built treatment plants, wastewater recycling facilities and miles of pipelines.  I’m certainly no expert on water systems but from my observation UTRWD has built quality facilities, does a good job of managing what they have built, and has never run out of water for its wholesale customers.  That’s the good news.

What I see as bad news is that many experts have said that UTRWD has overbuilt its system.  UTRWD says, “No, we’re undersubscribed!”  Is there a real difference between “overbuilt” and “undersubscribed”?  There is one very large pipeline that runs through Flower Mound that has never been needed or used.  It is not difficult to find water mains that seem way oversized.  While the UTRWD Board has restricted the building program during the current economic downturn, we are still very much overbuilt.

Why is that a problem?  At least we have enough capacity today!

The problem is that all those facilities are expensive.  That unused capacity was built with borrowed money.  Since the expected water use has never materialized, the existing customer base has had to pay higher water bills, much of it going to interest-only payments for these construction projects.  We haven’t even begun to pay the principal.

What’s done is done.  The pipes in the ground have a useful life and they get older every year whether they are used at all or used to capacity.  Now there is a new pipeline segment in the design and planning stage.  It’s needed to complete a loop from Flower Mound to Argyle to help supply expected growth in Northlake and Argyle.  The Board Members of UTRWD approved money to start basic design for the new system.

Flower Mound Board Member, Ken Parr, IS an expert in the field.  Ken spoke out against over sizing the new line.  He was allowed to speak and to make his points but he didn’t get much support from the board.  The vote approved design money and the point was made that the board would have chances to size the lines at a later date.  I believe that is a true statement but Ken apparently knows from bitter experience that once started, these big projects take on a life of their own.

The towns of Double Oak, Flower Mound and Copper Canyon have cooperated closely to attempt to control costs in the UTRWD.  They, in cooperation with other municipalities, have sparked debate on the board and again, in my opinion, have made some progress in controlling growth and costs.  It is a difficult equation. 

Water supply and infrastructure planning has to look into the future because these are big projects.  None of us want to run out of water or the capability to deliver it.  But we’re all paying for capacity that we can’t use in the near future.  I’m convinced that expansion must be controlled until growth in North Texas begins to catch up with existing capacity.

Another very large project in the works is the building of Lake Ralph Hall.  This future reservoir, while smaller than Lake Lewisville, could help supply limited additional water for UTRWD customers.  Double Oak Town Council passed a resolution a number of years ago concerning Lake Ralph Hall.  The town recognizes that the lake might be needed sometime in the future but it is not justified by current or even projected demand.  That statement is as true today as the day the resolution was passed.

We have been assured that the lake will not be built until needed, yet every year money is spent on state licensing, property acquisition and the like.  The justification continues to be that all these things take time.  What I see is that the project is rolling and gaining momentum and will certainly add capacity before we need it or can rightfully pay for it by an increased customer subscription base.

If you agree with me, why don’t you have a chat with your UTRWD board member?  Let’s see if we can get this locomotive under control!

Editor’s Note: Upper Trinity Regional Water District Board Members are listed at www.utrwd.com/BoardOfDirectors.htm

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