The Texas Water Development Board approved two loans this month to fund water infrastructure improvements in Austin. These loans total over $167 million and are aimed at the long-term use of water in the city. That money will fund two different projects, one of which will replace the city’s current water meter system with smart meters. Bech Bruun, Chairman of the Texas Water Development Board, said that this will increase accuracy and timeliness of information about water use.
“The main driver behind water loss issues is aging infrastructure,” he said. “We’ve got water lines that have been in place for a long time. They need to be repaired, they need regular maintenance, and that costs money. These types of advanced systems allow cities to more quickly identify where there are issues.”
The funding comes a year after some Austin Water customers expressed frustration over higher-than-expected water usage and billing. Austin Water cited leaks and broken water meters as causes. The utility says that smart meters, which can be read remotely, will allow customers to monitor leaks and water usage throughout the month.
The second loan funds improvements for water reclamation systems.
Jason Hill, a spokesperson for Austin Water, said that this reclamation system, which recycles wastewater, will save the city and its customers money and drinking water.
“Anything that deals with water is very capital intensive, and this money will be used to further expand this program and to provide reclaimed water to more and more customers,” Hill said.
The Austin loan package is one of 15 water plan projects that were approved by the state this month. These programs are financed through the State Water Implementation Fund for Texas, or SWIFT. The fund was formed in 2013 through a statewide ballot measure to fund projects on the state water plan at low interest rates. Bruun, from the Water Development Board, said the funding will help Austin stretch its water resources.
“Currently, the city is largely relying on surface water in the Highland Lakes, and...a strategy...that they’re embarking on with these particular projects is the need to diversify water supply,” he said.
The Austin City Council approved Austin Water’s loan application last year, but will have to vote again to allow use of the funds. Council is scheduled to vote on the water reclamation loan next month. The smart meter loan will come before council next year after further research and planning.