Brazos River Authority General Manager and CEO David Collinsworth jokingly recognized he scheduled meeting during the most unproductive time in corporate America. But he promised a roomful of stakeholders and employees that March Madness basketball games didn’t begin until later in the day.
“There’s some of you in the room I had no clue you were basketball fans,” he said, earning a soft laughter.
Collinsworth hosted the organizations’ first State of The Basin meeting March 21 at the Carleen Bright Arboretum in Woodway to share Brazos River Authority priorities, issues and real-life matters affecting the water business.
Roughly 120 people from across the Brazos basin attended to hear from Collinsworth and other Brazos River Authority managers.
Guests learned about ongoing efforts in Austin to support a bill aimed at ensuring customers in the lower basin have an adequate water supply in the future.
House Bill 2846, authored by Rep. Lyle Larson, of San Antonio, chair of the House Natural Resources Committee, if passed would provide the Brazos River Authority with the necessary and vital water resources to continue to provide an adequate water supply to customers.
Brad Brunett, BRA Central and Lower Basins regional manager, explained the proposed Allens Creek Reservoir is unique in that the project will be an off-channel reservoir and would not dam the Brazos River. Instead, the goal is to pump water from the Brazos to the reservoir when the river is high. Water in the reservoir would then be available during times of drought and to meet expected growth in demand due to population increases.
“The problem has been, in our basin, we needed this yesterday,” he said.
The BRA owns 30 percent of site while the city of Houston owns the majority. While the BRA has for the past decade pushed to build the reservoir, Houston leaders have been hesitant. The city has an ample supply of water, Brunett said.
The bill would require the city to sell its interest to the BRA.
The project to build a water supply storage reservoir will take 10 to 15 years and cost roughly $500 million, he said.
The bill also requires that the city of Houston retain some of the water supply, said Matt Phillips, the BRA legislative and governmental affairs manager. The bill has a great deal of support from industrial users in the lower basin that need water, he said.
BRA success doesn’t necessarily mean the bill passes, Phillips said. Success could mean a deal is reached that would allow the project to move forward.
Risk is often thought only in terms of liability.
The BRA is taking a different approach.
Assessing risk allows the BRA to better prioritize capital projects efficiently and in a fiscally conservative manner.
“I’m really, really excited that we’re moving in this direction,” Collinsworth said. “It will help us be more accountable to you. It will help us be more accountable to the board.”
BRA Technical Services Manager Chuck Wolf said assessing risk allows for improved, long-term capital forecasting. The BRA has devised different measures to determine the likelihood of failure of different assets, then reviewed what consequences may follow, before determining the remaining useful life of that asset.
“We have the ability with good engineering and science to assess if something may fail,” Wolfe said. “It’s a really exciting process. This is a really positive use of risk.”
Preparing for drought
Every five years the BRA updates its Drought Contingency Plan to ensure steps are in place to make the water supply last as long as possible during a drought, Water Services Manager Aaron Abel said.
The public is encouraged to offer any comments or remarks on the proposed plan between March 22 and April 22, Abel said. The plan is located on the Brazos River Authority’s website or residents can request a hard copy via the Public Information Office by calling (254) 761-3174.
The Drought Contingency Plan will be presented for adoption April 29 at the next BRA Board of Directors meeting.
Abel said some of the proposed changes include establishing new trigger levels and incorporating the East Williamson County Regional Water System into the plan. The plan also includes referenced seasonal forecasts from the Texas Water Development Board as a drought monitoring tool and the BRA clarified some pro-rata curtailment language, he said.
The good kind of mussel
Mussels are on the mind of the BRA environmental team, but not for what you may think.
It’s not the dreaded, invasive zebra mussels causing concern but the Texas Fawnsfoot, Smooth Pimpleback and the False Spike.
Tiffany Morgan, BRA environmental and compliance manager, said three types of mussels could make the Endangered Species Act listing for mollusks that are in peril. The good news is it appears the Smooth Pimpleback – which covers most of the Brazos basin – won’t be listed, she said.
Additional research has revealed the underwater creature may, in fact, be found in multiple states and rivers under different names, Morgan said.
However, since the Texas Fawnsfoot and False Spike mussels are likely to be included on the endangered species list, the BRA is working to ensure that status change doesn’t adversely affect the basin's water supply.
“This is the time where we have the slightest shred of advantage,” she said.
In other states, water rights have been dramatically altered as a result of additions to the endangered species list, Morgan said. The BRA is working with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on an agreement that with BRA conservation measures would provide assurances that additional regulatory conservation measures beyond those in the agreement will not be required if those mussels are placed on the list.
Collinsworth encouraged anyone interested in more information on any of the topics to reach out to the BRA's Public Information Offices at 888-922-6272. Customers and stakeholders could also reach out to the BRA if there is interest in having a certain topic explained to their local city council, governmental entity or community meeting through the BRA Speakers Bureau by calling 254-761-3174 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Video of the meeting and the full presentation are available here.