City IDs, pursues next water supply
The City of San Angelo has identified the leading option for its next water supply and taken the first step toward its development.
The Concho River Water Project is a move to extend San Angelo’s sources beyond its lakes and the Hickory Aquifer. It will do so by adding a reliable and sustainable source that will help meet water needs for decades to come.
The project involves releasing highly treated water from the City’s wastewater treatment plant into the Concho River. After it has flowed down that “natural pipeline,” the water will be recouped farther downstream. From there, it will be piped to the water treatment plant, where it will be treated to drinking standards.
“This is water San Angelo already has,” said attorney Jason Hill, the City’s special counsel for water. “We’re just able to make better use of it. It’s a win-win for the community.”
On Sept. 18, the City Council unanimously agreed to pursue state permits that will ensure the water is treated to adequately high standards before its release into the river.
Prior to recommending the Concho River project, engineers and City staff studied 24 possible water supplies. Those included surface water, groundwater and direct reuse. The experts and City officials concluded the Concho River Water Project is a reliable and cost-effective source, will produce water with an improved taste, can be developed relatively quickly, and utilizes proven science. Cities have long released their treated wastewater downstream into streams, rivers and lakes. Treated wastewater from Ballinger, Robert Lee and Winters, for instance, flows into San Angelo’s primary water source, Ivie Reservoir.
“We are releasing it into the Concho so we have what we call an environmental buffer,” said Scott Hibbs, principal water resource engineer with eHT, an Abilene engineering firm. “So we’re letting Mother Nature take care of some of the treatment aspects.”
Securing state permits could take as little as two to three years. Completing the entire project could take about five years and will cost about $120 million dollars. That includes upgrades to the water and wastewater treatment plants. Those improvements would be needed regardless of which new water source was chosen.
When completed, the Concho River Water Project will produce about 7.5 million gallons per day. By comparison, the Hickory Aquifer is currently capable of producing 8 million gallons per day, although that is being expanded to 12 million gallons. San Angelo averages about 12 million gallons of daily usage.
Work continues by the West Texas Water Partnership to develop a long-term source that can serve San Angelo, Abilene and Midland. The Concho River Water Project will help meet local water demands for about the next 50 years.
“This takes San Angelo a long ways down the road of water security,” Hill said. “And when I say a long ways, I’m talking generationally … 2060, 2070.”
The project will also diversify San Angelo’s portfolio of water sources. Because the City will not be dependent upon any one source of water, San Angelo will be better able to weather times of drought.
FAQs on Concho River Water Project
For five years now, making San Angelo water secure has been the City Council’s top stated priority. That means ensuring the community not only has a reliable infrastructure but an ample supply. Adequate water is important for daily living, to protect the public’s health, to maintain our excellent quality of life and to foster economic development.
The newly proposed Concho River Water Project is a tremendous step toward making San Angelo water secure.
What is the Concho River Water Project?
The Concho River Water Project is a move to extend San Angelo’s water supply beyond our reservoirs and the Hickory Aquifer. The project adds a reliable addition to the City’s water supply options. It represents a significant step forward in the City’s continuing efforts to secure the water it needs to thrive for generations to come.
The project will involve discharging water treated to federal and state standards into the Concho River and then recouping that water farther downstream at a City-owned facility on the river. The water will then be sent to our water treatment plant, where it will be treated even further to drinking standards.
Why is this the leading option for growing San Angelo’s water supply?
Cheap, easy-to-develop water supplies are the exception, not the rule. The City commissioned a water feasibility study that assessed 24 possible water supplies. Those included more surface water, more groundwater and direct potable reuse. Based upon the data and information provided by the consultants hired by the City, staff and the City Council agree the project checks all the boxes.
Compared to other options, the project will:
- Provide a reliable and secure source of water.
- Yield an economical water supply.
- Produce water with an improved taste.
- Reduce potential legal and political hurdles.
- Involve a shorter timeframe in which it can be accomplished.
- Utilize proven science in terms of water quality, hydrology and engineering.
Another exciting aspect of the Concho River Water Project is it will piggyback with existing City water infrastructure investments that need to – and likely will – occur with or without the project.
How much water will this project yield?
Approximately 7.5 million gallons per day, even during severe droughts. San Angelo averages about 12 million gallons of daily usage over the course of a year. By comparison, the Hickory Aquifer is currently capable of producing 8 million gallons per day (although an expansion of that to 12 million gallons is underway).
Perhaps the greatest advantage of this project is that it makes greater use of San Angelo’s existing water supplies. As a result, it’s a guaranteed source of water – one that will expand as our community grows. That is, as San Angelo uses more water, it will be released into the Concho and then recouped for further use.
What’s the first step?
The City Council on Sept. 18 approved the pursuit of two necessary state permits: one to release water into the Concho River and the other to recoup the water at City-owned facilities downstream. Additionally, City staff was directed to start designing significant, long-overdue improvements to our water treatment and reclamation facilities.
Why are improvements to the wastewater treatment plant needed?
The Concho River Water Project will involve treating water that passes through our reclamation facility to an even higher quality so (in keeping with the state permit) it can be released into the Concho. Using the river as a “natural pipeline” to move water to our water treatment plant will negate the need for more large transmission lines. Plus, it allows the community to use water that already belongs to us that would otherwise be lost downstream or elsewhere.
Will this take care of all of the City’s water supply problems?
The Concho River Water Project, when combined with our reservoirs and the Hickory Aquifer, is projected to move San Angelo a long way toward addressing its water needs through 2070. It will add to and diversify the city’s water portfolio. That means San Angelo won’t be so reliant on any one source – such as lakes – and can better weather times of drought.
It will also put the City in a far more secure position should one of our water sources be offline. By adding more than 7 million gallons of water per day to our system, this project makes a remarkable difference in San Angelo’s water security.
That said, San Angelo will never stop its search for more water. Our regional partnership with the cities of Abilene and Midland will continue its work to develop a long-term water source that can serve all three communities. We will always work non-stop to ensure our community has a bright future.
How much will it cost?
The project is anticipated to cost about $120 million. Coincidentally, that is the same amount spent to develop the Hickory Aquifer. As with that project, the City would pursue low-interest financing through the Texas Water Development Board.
The Concho River Water Project will include upgrades to our aged water and water reclamation plants, the former of which is approximately 100 years old. Those projects would have to be accomplished even if we chose a different water supply or strategy.
Updated plants with 21st-century technology and better treatment capabilities will also allow us to treat water from all of our surface water sources to a higher standard. That should yield a better-tasting water, which is a goal for any water supply project.
How long will it take?
Permitting timelines can range from two to three years, so the project could feasibly be completed within five years. That may well depend upon legal and political challenges.
How is this different than what we currently do?
Currently, the City treats this water and delivers it for irrigation. So, the city will be using a highly valuable resource after treating it to a level that will improve overall water quality.
Is this a reuse project?
This is not a so-called “toilet-to-tap” project, which concerns some. Direct potable reuse would be more expensive and, after the treatment process, would yield less water.
Using rivers and streams to transport treated wastewater has been used for decades. Cities commonly discharge water into a river that is later picked up by a downstream neighbor, or by the city itself, and used for drinking water. In fact, Ballinger, Robert Lee and Winters release its treated wastewater downstream to flow into Ivie Reservoir, San Angelo’s primary water source.
The Concho River Water Project will capture San Angelo’s own water, expanding and diversifying the city’s water portfolio. Because we will be retrieving the same amount of water we are releasing, the efficiency of the Concho River Water Project will be extremely high.
Mayor Gunter on Concho River Water Project
San Angelo’s mayor and City Council routinely make decisions that affect individuals and groups. It’s not often, however, that we cast a vote that will impact hundreds of thousands of lives for generations to come. Sept. 18 was such a day.
Following an executive session discussion, the Council unanimously agreed to seek a pair of state permits to allow the development of San Angelo’s next water source – a supply that will yield at least 7.5 million gallons daily well beyond any of our lifetimes.
After years of study that spanned dozens of options, the City’s elected officials and its management are resolute in our pursuit of what we’re calling the Concho River Water Project.
In short, this effort will extend San Angelo’s water supply beyond our lakes and the Hickory Aquifer. It will give our community a reliable and replenishing source that will see us through even the most severe droughts. And it will produce tastier drinking water at a cost-effective rate.
The Concho River Water Project involves releasing highly treated water from the City’s wastewater treatment plant into the Concho River. The river would serve as a natural pipeline and buffer, transporting the water farther downstream to a City-owned facility. From there the water would be piped back to the water treatment plant to undergo further treatment to drinking standards.
After analyzing options that ranged from surface supplies to groundwater to direct reuse, our experts, both in the Water Utilities Department and an outside engineering firm, concluded the Concho River Water Project “checked all the boxes.” It will give us:
- A reliable and secure source of water.
- A cost-effective water supply.
- Water that is more aesthetically pleasing.
- Fewer legal and political hurdles than are typically involved with developing a supply.
- A shorter timeframe in which it can be accomplished.
- A process that utilizes proven science in terms of water quality, hydrology and engineering.
That last point refers to the longtime practice of cities nationwide releasing their treated wastewater downstream for use by another community. In fact, Ballinger, Robert Lee and Winters’ treated wastewater flows into San Angelo’s primary water source, the Ivie Reservoir.
The state permits will ensure our wastewater is treated to a high standard for release into the river. We anticipate the project could be completed within five years at a cost of about $120 million.
Coincidentally, that mirrors the expense of the Hickory Aquifer. As it successfully did for that project, the City will pursue low-interest financing for the river project from the Texas Water Development Board.
Much of the cost of the Concho River Water Project involves badly needed upgrades to our water and wastewater treatment plants – improvements that are necessary independent of this project. That’s because parts of the water plant are 100 years old. Updated plants with 21st-century treatment capabilities will also allow us to treat water from our lakes to a higher standard. Designs on those improvements will soon begin.
When finished, the Concho River Water Project will produce approximately 7.5 million gallons per day. That is comparable to the 8 million gallons the Hickory Aquifer can produce (although an expansion to 12 million gallons is underway). The river project equates to about 60 percent of San Angelo’s average daily water usage.
Even better, the Concho River Water Project makes greater use of our existing water supplies. How? As San Angelo uses more water, it will eventually be released into the river and recouped for further use.
Lastly, this project will diversify San Angelo’s portfolio of water sources, a needed addition to our existing lake supplies and our groundwater in the Hickory. Because we won’t be reliant on any one source for water, that will make us more prepared for the sorts of extreme drought we’ve experienced since 2011. That’s an enviable position for any city to be in, particularly in West Texas, where water is scarce.
That does not mean our march for more water is over. Our work with the cities of Abilene and Midland continues, as the West Texas Water Partnership searches for a water source that could serve all three communities. Frankly, the work of finding more water will never end … nor should it. Such is the importance of water to ensure that San Angelo continues to thrive for generations to come.
Brenda Gunter is the mayor of the City of San Angelo. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.