US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Case Study*: Corix Spicewood Beach Water System

Corix's Spicewood Beach water system was recently profiled in the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)’s Drought Response and Recovery Guide. Drought Response and Recovery – A Basic Guide for Water Utilities, March 2016 This guide features case studies of how several utilities successfully responded to drought and provides drinking water utilities with practical solutions to prepare for, respond to, and recover from drought.

Read the Spicewood Beach case study below.

System Details

  • Rural water utility on the shores of Lake Travis in the lower Colorado River basin, 50 miles northwest of Austin, Texas

  • 435 connections serving approximately 1,100 people and a school

  • Formerly owned and operated by the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA) until purchased by Corix Utilities (Corix) in 2013

  • Historically relied on 2 alluvial groundwater wells until deeper alluvial, 175-200 gallons per minute (gpm) wells were drilled during 2003-2004

Impact

Water supply reservoirs in the lower Colorado River basin had not been full since 2005, when central Texas experienced the driest and one of the hottest years on record in 2011. The Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA) enacted drought management provisions as reservoir levels continued to drop within the basin. Although its alluvial groundwater wells were producing sufficient water supply to meet its own needs, as an LCRA-owned utility, the (Corix) Spicewood Beach Water System (Spicewood Beach) and its customers adopted the mandatory water use restrictions.

Spicewood Beach’s well production began rapidly dropping beginning in December 2011. On January 17, 2012, the wells were producing 108 gallons per minute (gpm), falling below the service area’s typical winter demand rate of 125 gpm. Within 10 days, production was at 56 gpm — less than half of what was needed to meet winter demand. By the end of January, the wells essentially stopped producing and the utility had insufficient water supplies to meet system needs. For 2 years, water was trucked in daily to meet basic health and safety needs.

Response Measures

Staffing, Response Plans and Funding

Spicewood Beach had two drought management plans: LCRA’s Drought Contingency Plan, which established system-wide drought triggers based on combined storage in upstream storage reservoirs (Lake Buchanan and Lake Travis), and another plan with specific drought triggers for Spicewood Beach. Both plans included water use restrictions and emergency response actions; however, neither anticipated such a rapid loss of water supply. A Corix team, composed of their General Manager, Area Supervisor (operations manager) and Environmental Compliance Manager, sought to find alternative water supplies to maintain critical services while securing a longer-term solution. The team responded to unprecedented drought conditions while it was managing the transition from LCRA to Corix ownership.

One of the key challenges for Spicewood Beach during their drought response was managing utility finances. In addition to paying water hauling costs of approximately $35,000 per month, LCRA funded a $1.2 million alternative supply and treatment project. Corix managed day-to-day operations and was responsible for design and construction of the new system. Other funding sources included revenues from Corix’s central Texas regional utility system as well as grants. The regional approach allowed capital costs, and the financial impact, to be spread across all customers in the region.

Water Supply and Demand Management

While implementing a long-term solution, Spicewood Beach trucked five to six tankers of potable water to their distribution storage tank to supply water to customers each day for 2 years. During that time, Spicewood Beach put in place the following demand management strategies:

  • Prohibited non-essential water use.

  • Allocated 8,000 gallons of water. maximum per month per household.

  • Conducted aggressive leak detection and repair.

  • Reduced line flushing

Encouraged elementary schools to save water in kitchen and restroom facilities and motivated the students to save water at school and at home.

The utility explored a number of options before finally implementing the first surface water infiltration gallery in Texas. Substantial subsurface flow in the lake bed was discovered during a geologic bore. This led to an innovative project consisting of two 30- to 40-foot wells that draw water through the sands of the lake bed. The water is then conveyed approximately one-half mile for treatment.

To successfully permit and implement this project, Spicewood Beach staff:

  • Collaborated with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) to determine the appropriate water treatment regulations.

  • Worked with a prefabricated treatment plant manufacturer to build the 475,000 gallon per day plant that met all regulatory design standards.

  • Integrated the new facilities with the raw water pipeline from the existing alluvial groundwater wells.

  • Used utility staff for much of the construction, to reduce costs.

Communication and Partnerships

In addition to developing an innovative water supply project, an important aspect for the Spicewood Beach Water System drought response was engaging local, regional and state partners. State officials and agencies provided Spicewood Beach with technical assistance and financial resources throughout the drought. When the Texas Department of Agriculture announced its solicitation for grant proposals for public water supply systems on a first-come, first-served basis, Corix and LCRA officials worked with the Burnet County Judge and state officials to submit a grant proposal to fund the Spicewood Beach surface water project. Burnet County was awarded a $350,000 grant for the Spicewood Beach Water System, through disaster relief funds allotted for drought projects.

Looking Forward

Based on the lessons learned during their 2011 – 2014 drought response, Corix plans to revise its drought response plan. The utility also plans to conduct regular emergency preparedness exercises with key utility personnel including management, operations, financial and regulatory leads. Empowered by lessons learned from the last drought, as well as an innovative and reliable water supply source, Spicewood Beach is now well situated for future droughts.

Quick Facts

  • Corix has developed uniform rates for the utility system, covering 80% of the utility's fixed costs.

  • LCRA augmented water supply by water hauling; approximately five or six tankers filled the storage tank every day.

  • A $350,000 grant through disaster relief funds was awarded to alleviate drought conditions.

*Source: US Environmental Protection Agency: Drought Response and Recovery: A Basic Guide for Water Utilities (2016)