A big question that has many of Aqua's ratepayers nervous is whether the repair costs will be passed on in the form of increased rates
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By Bob Ochoa
An Aqua Texas official has informed the Hays Trinity Groundwater Conservation District that the water company is moving forward with plans to repair leaks in its system in Woodcreek and Woodcreek North.
Reeh said Aqua will need to complete several regulatory steps "before we are able to actually start turning dirt and replacing water lines." The review process by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality of Aqua's repair plans will take between 90 and 120 days, Reeh said. In the meantime, Aqua will solicit bids from contractors for the project.
Reeh's letter does not specify the extent or cost of the initial repairs. Aqua officials have previously estimated a price tag of $5 million to repair the entire system. A big question that has many of Aqua's ratepayers nervous is whether the repair costs will be passed on in the form of increased rates.
Aqua's willingness to begin repairs on its notoriously leaky Woodcreek water system "is a good thing for the aquifer," Mr. Skipton told the RoundUp. "Aqua Texas is showing, at this point, good faith. They have taken it upon themselves to fix the problem after going to the (District's) meetings and hearing the concerns brought up by a lot of people who thought Aqua should start doing something to fix the problems."
For well over a year, Aqua and the District's board have been unable to reach a comprehensive agreement to remedy extensive groundwater waste, or line loss, in Aqua's water system, which serves more than 2,000 customers in the City of Woodcreek and unincorporated Woodcreek North.
"The task of coming to an agreement has been challenging, to say the least," Reeh states in his letter. "We will continue to work with you and the District in trying to work on a comprehensive agreement to address our respective concerns."
Under its current permits with the District, Aqua is allowed to pump 321 acre-feet of water annually for its Woodcreek Phase I service area and 339 acre-feet for Woodcreek Phase II (approximately 215 million gallons combined). By its own reporting to the District of groundwater pumpage, use and line loss, Aqua's system is hemorrhaging something on the order of 57 million gallons annually. Line loss is reported to be about 20% in Woodcreek Phase I and 35% in the Phase II service area.
The District's Rule 9, which addresses groundwater waste and penalties, sets the allowable line loss at 15%, the standard for municipal water systems. Aqua has threatened legal action against the District if it sought to enforce the water waste rule.
Several long running attempts to negotiate a settlement on the line loss problem have failed. One such attempt which proved to be extremely unpopular with the public was to grant Aqua a 3-year permit with built in pumping increases in exchange for a promise from Aqua to repair its system's leaks.
Meanwhile, the RoundUp is informed that the City of Woodcreek is preparing a survey that it will send to residents of both Woodcreek and Woodcreek North in February. A city source said the survey is being done to "gauge the sentiment of Aqua's customers." The results will be tabulated in March.
Late last year, the Woodcreek Property Owners Association collected more than 650 individually signed petitions protesting Aqua's high rates. An informed source said the petition essentially says "enough is enough, we can't afford to live here with these kind of water rates – please do something." The petition requests an investigation into Aqua Texas water and sewer service rates.
Copies of the petitions were hand delivered to then State Rep. Patrick Rose and candidate Jason Isaac, who defeated Rose in the November election. Other officials said to have received, or will receive, the petitions include new County Judge Bert Cobb, County Commissioner Will Conley, State Sen. Jeff Wentworth and former County Commissioner Jeff Barton.
So far, the source said, "We haven't heard a word back from anyone, nothing from Isaac."
Commissioner Conley and Judge Cobb reportedly will meet soon to discuss the petition.
Part of the petition text states: "For years we have been subjected to the excessive rates and fees of Aqua Texas. We cannot afford these outrageous rates and fees and we request you investigate this company and do all that you can to reduce these rates and fees as soon as possible. Those of us who own vacant lots or have our homes on the market are being adversely affected as well. Basic human needs such as water and sewer should never be a luxury item!"
We'll have more on this as updates become available.