Here is a high-level summary of the events leading up to the existence of the Whitewater Springs Water Supply Corporation (WSWSC) and the actions we have taken to acquire and operate the WWS water system on behalf of the residents:
- The WWS system was transferred to LCRA in 2003 for $0.00 by Merchants Bank (which owned the system). The bank also gave LCRA $110,000 to defray future costs (new wells, etc.).
- In November 2010, LCRA announced that it is divesting itself of our water system along with 28 other water, wastewater, and intake barges. These are large systems (i.e. Leander Water Plant, West Lake Hills Wastewater, West Travis County MUD) and small systems (many water systems in Burnet and Llano Counties)
- LCRA’s initial position was to sell all to one bidder to recover as much of the $300 million that they claim to have invested in the systems and also to stop the monthly loss of approx $300,000 per month to operate the systems (as they have co-mingled funds between systems, valuation of any single system problematic; the one-bidder solution “solves” that problem).
- It became rapidly apparent that if the system is sold to a for-profit company, we will pay significant capital recovery costs through our water bills. The estimated amount could be as high as $150.00 per month per household before any charges for water usage. (This kind of experience has been shared by customers whose systems were acquired by Aqua Texas, one of the for-profit companies bidding on the LCRA package. You can find links to several websites that document some of the stories about water service by Aqua Texas by searching on the term “Aqua Texas reviews.”)
- Since January, concerned WWS residents have been participating in a “coalition” that includes representatives from a number of the affected systems (municipalities, counties, and communities similar to WWS). After numerous regular meetings and connection with influencers in local and state government as well as the LCRA, this coalition was invited to submit a proposal for the full package of systems. This led to formalizing the group as the Coalition of Central Texas Utilities Development Corporation (UDC), a legal entity with the ability to obtain financing for the package purchase and transact business with LCRA and its representatives. The UDC will serve as a “pass-through” entity; upon completion of package purchase, it will sell individual systems to its stakeholders (such as the WSWSC).
- LCRA has moved away somewhat from its original “one buyer, one package” position, and in a March 30, 2011 letter from LCRA Chairman Tim Timmerman, we were invited to submit a proposal for acquisition of the WWS system alone.
- In order to participate in the UDC proposal and to interact with LCRA and its representatives, three WWS residents (Trish Lambert, Bill Hiers, and Frank Caramanica) formed the WSWSC. This is a non-profit corporation that operates according to state law and that will manage the water system after acquiring it.
- We have completed the first step in LCRA’s selection process, which is to submit what they call an “indicative bid,” a non-binding expression of interest and capability. This will be used to determine if we will be allowed to move to the next step, which will include a thorough review of all aspects of the water system and submission of a revised bid that reflects findings from that review. The UDC has submitted a similar bid proposal…so it could be said that we have two horses in the race!
- We are currently researching financing options as well as gather information about companies that operated water systems for WSC’s such as ours.
We formed the WSWSC and solicited members from the current water tap holders. These people paid a membership fee which gave us funds to hire a lawyer and proceed with negotiations with LCRA to acquire the system. We initially asked LCRA to give us the system back at no cost, much as they acquired it from the bank in the first place, both in writing and at a presentation at a LCRA Board Meeting. The final negotiated price was $380,000. At that time, our lawyer’s advice was to pay LCRA vs. taking them to court and trying to get a better deal…”Pay LCRA or pay the lawyer” and LCRA had a pot full of lawyers and we might lose in court.
We had initially tried to secure funds from the USDA and it became painfully evident that it was going to take considerably longer than expected and would not meet LCRA deadline for finalizing the deal. We were able to secure a loan for $425,000 thru a commercial bank, Extraco in Georgetown, with a USDA guarantee. The $45,000 addition to the “buy price” was for future operating expenses. The deal was consummated in July 2012 and we were in the water business.
The Water System: Most of the water system was installed by the original developer back in the 1998-2000 timeframe. The main assets are 3 wells, a 100,000 gal ground storage tank, a 4000 gal pressure tank, approx 15 miles of 2 to 8” PVC piping and various pumps, valves, pressure reducers to make it all work. The system is split into the “pressure” side and the “gravity” side. The pressure side furnishes water to the homes along the top of the hills and the gravity side to the valleys below. The people in between are just that…”in between”. There actual four planes in the water system separated by pressure reducers and all the water lines are “looped” so all the water is equalized throughout the system. I’m sure I have lost most of you by now. If you would like more details, phone me.
Our water comes from the Trinity Aquifer and is very high quality and not very “hard”. If you have or want to install a “tankless” water heater, a water softener is recommended…otherwise the need for a water softener is a personal preference. We also believe that because we are surrounded by the Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge, with few competing wells, we should have a reliable source of water for many years to come. We have been monitoring the aquifer level since August 2013, and it has only fluctuated about 10 feet over that period. The water column height is currently 110 feet.
Organization and Operation: The WSWSC is a non-profit 501c12 Corporation formed under Texas Law for Water Supply Corporations. We have a Board of Directors composed of 5 board members elected only by members of the Corporation. Your $500 membership fee entitles you to one vote. If you have multiple taps, you are still only entitled to one vote. This way no one individual or entity can control the Board.
The current Board members are Richard Curtis, Frank Caramanica, Oscar Saint, Jack Merkel, and Bill Hiers. We all serve staggered 3-year terms. We are not compensated in any way (other than reimbursable expenses that involve supporting the Corporation) and have no paid employees. We are also subject to the regulations of the Texas Open Meetings Act. We currently meet on a quarterly basis at the Bertram Library. Notifications of meetings are posted on the website and on the Bulletin Board at the mailboxes.
PGMS performs all the day-to-day operations, maintenance functions, meter readings, billing and most of the accounting functions. They are on-call 24/7 at 1-866-643-3472 (toll-free). This number is also on the website.
Significant Events: We have stated since the takeover from LCRA that we want to reduce our water losses as much as possible throughout the entire system. We experienced several “events” where we had pipe breaks caused by vehicles or individuals breaking lines or valves or faulty installation of pipes. The white or blue pipes sticking up throughout the subdivision protect valves on the main water lines. Any contact with these pipes with a vehicle or even a riding mower can break the valve away from the water pipe and cause a leak, which because of the fractured geology of the area, can go undetected for years. We have spent significant manpower walking every line, inspecting every valve riser and pressure reducer vault for leaks and found several. In 2014 we hired a leak detection company to come out and “acoustically” check the system…They were successful in finding another 11 leaks that were all fixed in 2014. Our members can help by looking for wet spots or water in the riser columns and reporting them to PGMS or one of the Board Directors.
We have also added improvements to the system starting with Auto-Read Meters (ARM). These new meters are accurate to one one-hundredth of a gallon and can be read by a computer program in a vehicle driving near the meter box. We now have these meters on every active customer tap and all 3 wells. We believe we have a handle on the losses on the system and are currently exploring other alternatives to improve the overall operation. Another advantage with ARM is that we can detect small leaks on the customer side. The meter automatically records water used every hour for a period of several months and sends an alert to the software in the meter read program that leak has been detected (defined by no “zero” water consumed reading for a period of 72 hrs). We then contact the customer and inform them. Leaks detected have been toilet flapper valves, hose bib (exterior faucet) swimming pool and fish pond leaks and faulty watering timers.
Current Activities (2015): We recently cleaned and inspected the main storage tank. We also took the pressure tank offline and cleaned and recoated the inside with epoxy paint. Both of these jobs were accomplished with no downtime to the system and no customers were without water during the time the jobs were being done.
We also had to pull the down-hole pump on well #1 and replace the pump. It had partially failed and its water output had fallen to half of its original production. All wells are now at full production.
We are getting bids for relocating the exposed water line crossing Cow Creek at the low-water crossing. The plan is to excavate a trench in the limestone bedrock and encase a new water line in concrete to protect it from future floods.
We have experienced a significant increase in both new neighbors in existing homes and new construction and are now in the planning phase for adding a new well to the system. The Developer, Montvale Investors LLP, drilled several test wells a few years back and it will soon be time to bring a new producing well on line.
What Our Members Can Do to Help: Each member of the WSWSC has a vested interest in ensuring we have a sustainable source of high-quality water for the foreseeable future. We actively encourage water conservation to protect our aquifer. Rainwater collection and use of native and drought-resistant plants and grasses should be considered by all. Grass types that are suited to Austin, Dallas, and Houston will not survive here without excessive amounts of water. An excellent guide available at most local nurseries is “Native and Adapted Landscape Plants an Earthwise Guide for Central Texas.” They are also on-line at growgreen.org . In addition, we have many members in WWS that are Master Gardeners and Naturalists and will be happy to help with suggestions on suitable plantings.