Utility closes in on new pipeline to help Lake Pointe, other customers

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Scott Roberts, president of the West Travis County Public Utility Agency board of trustees, questions WTCPUA General Manager Robert Pugh May 18 about a second raw water pipeline slated for Lake Pointe. Roberts is Hays County's representative to the agency and also owns The Salt Lick BBQ restaurants.
This map shows the possible options (purple lines) the West Travis County Public Utility Agency is considering to place a second raw water pipeline within the Lake Pointe area. Each option traverses some amount of endangered species habitat. Alternate 1 is the preferred alignment, General Manager Robert Pugh said.

The West Travis County Public Utility Agency announced May 18 it was a step closer to providing greater water capacity to its Lake Pointe customers and beyond, WTCPUA General Manager Robert Pugh said during the agency’s meeting today.

A second water line has been in the works for quite some time and will run in the vicinity of the Lake Pointe area’s original water line. The second, or redundant, pipeline will serve as an additional means to transfer water from Lake Travis to the WTCPUA water treatment plant located at Bee Cave Parkway and Bee Caves Road.

The Lake Pointe community, shown by this water droplet, abuts the Colorado River.

“The purpose of the line is to provide increased capacity to the water treatment plant, and redundancy for the existing raw water line,” Pugh said.

An Oct. 6, 2015, raw water pipeline leak at the back of Lake Pointe displaced more than 3.5 million gallons of water during the eight days it was incapacitated, according to Don Rauschuber, the WTCPUA general manager at the time of the event. He said the 31-year-old water pipeline was under constant pressure and a redundant pipeline would have aided repairs of the broken pipeline.

Bump in the road

However, since a portion of each of the four options for the second water line passes through federal preserve land, the agency must mitigate—or provide other land that offers habitat for endangered species—in exchange for being able to construct the pipeline.

Pugh said he and staffers from the WTCPUA met with U.S. Fish and Wildlife on March 28 to follow up on the agency’s permit to allow the second raw water line to traverse its protected land.

“I thought it was a turning point,” Pugh said of the WTCPUA’s negotiations with USFWS, the agency responsible for awarding the WTCPUA its water line permit over the protected areas.

He said the two agencies have a verbal agreement that if the WTCPUA provides a mitigation plan to purchase other property for endangered species habitat, USFWS would “look favorably” on the WTCPUA proposal for a second water line.

Pugh said USFWS would provide its decision in a couple of weeks and the WTCPUA would probably be expected to purchase 25-28 acres as mitigation land.

Who pays?

The cost to purchase the mitigation land amounts to about $200,000, WTCPUA Board President Scott Roberts said.

He said the WTCPUA should be able to access a ‘mitigation bank’ managed by the Lower Colorado River Authority to pay for the mitigation property instead of using WTCPUA funds.

Roberts said although the Lower Colorado River Authority currently controls the management and disbursement of mitigation credits, the WTCPUA has the right to use these credits to purchase mitigation land that would clear the way for the agency to construct a second raw water line in the Lake Pointe area.

When it was founded in 2012, the WTCPUA, as buyer, agreed with the LCRA, as seller, to purchase all of the water and wastewater contracts and/or assets the LCRA owned at the time of the sale.

In 2012, the WTCPUA did not realize the LCRA had a ‘mitigation bank’ of funds that could be used for this purpose—that is, to purchase habitat property in order to mitigate for the construction of utility lines through preserve tracts, Board Member Bill Goodwin said. Goodwin is Bee Cave’s representative on the agency board that includes Hays County and Municipal Utility District 5/Lake Pointe representatives.

“ I know that the meetings between Murfee Engineering [that will be constructing the lines], PUA staff and the LCRA have been ongoing over the last several months to investigate that—our request that they give us those mitigation credits for this project,” Goodwin said. “I think the likelihood for getting those mitigation credits is pretty high because that’s what specifically the mitigation bank was set up for—water and wastewater [lines].”

The redundancy pipeline project is estimated to cost about $4.1 million, Pugh said.