Counting water

Julie Andress considers herself a Jack of all trades.

A title well-earned after nearly 17 years working in most areas within the Waco Central Office.

And while she’s loved expanding her skill set and offering her talents to varying departments, she’s found a permanent work home within the Water Services Department.

As a water accounting specialist, Andress’ daily duties keep her on her toes, especially during a drought.

Due to the lack of rain in the fall, for the second time in 10 years reservoirs in the Brazos River basin released water in November for contract holders downstream, she said.

“We were so grateful for the recent rains,” she said.

Reporting water

As a wholesale water provider, the Brazos River Authority makes water available to municipalities, water districts, water supply corporations, agricultural users, irrigators, steam electric generating facilities, manufacturing entities, and mining operations throughout the Brazos River basin via water supply contracts. Contracts can range up to 30 years and are subject to the supply available to the BRA through its water right permits and reservoir storage.

The BRA was formed by the Texas Legislature in 1929 as the first government entity in the U.S. created specifically to develop and manage the water resources of an entire river basin. The BRA seeks to optimize water supply from its reservoirs and the river through a coordinated system operation effort.

There was 264,454 acre-feet of water used in the BRA System in 2019. An acre-foot is the amount of water needed to cover one acre (43,560 square feet) with one foot of water. One acre-foot is equal to 325,851 gallons of water. In 2019, roughly 47% of the water use was for municipal purposes, while 46% went to industrial uses, 5% was used for irrigation and 2% was for mining.

The BRA holds water rights to use water supply from the system of 11 reservoirs that stretch across the 42,000-square-mile river basin.

So, when a water contract holder in the southern end of the basin near the Gulf of Mexico needs water, a reservoir upstream must release water to allow it to reach those in need.

In 2014, the state created a Watermaster program for the Brazos River to monitor water use within the basin and enforce water rights compliance. In 2016, Andress was hired to the role that reports that data to the watermaster.

Each week, downstream water contract holders, be it municipalities, industries, or farmers, report a projection to Andress of how much water they expect to use from the Brazos River during the upcoming week, so each drop is accounted for. They often change their estimate throughout the week, whether it’s because they overshot or didn’t project enough, she said.

Based on needs and contracts, the watermaster will allow the release of certain amounts of water from specific areas of the basin to reach those in need.

Some areas of the department are busier when it rains, but for Andress, sometimes the lack of rain keeps her on her toes.

“It could take a week if someone downstream wants something, and we have to release from Possum Kingdom Lake,” Andress said. “It’s important for them to know what their travel times are before they ask for water.”

Different contract holders report water differently, she said. Some report in gallons and others in acre-feet, while oil and gas companies specifically report usage by barrels, she said.

Andress said she takes pride in her work because the job helps protect contract holders’ water. She’s worked with many of the same contract holders for years and prides her multitasking abilities.

Water is such a vital resource. Understanding its value and importance helps encourage conservation efforts at any age or place in the world.

Water Services Manager Aaron Abel said Andress’ dedication and work experience at the BRA makes her an invaluable team member.

“Julie is so cognizant of our wide-ranging water customers and does an outstanding job to ensure their water supply needs are met,” Abel said.

Water management

The BRA is the largest provider of wholesale surface water within the basin. BRA stores water in three reservoirs: Possum Kingdom Lake, Lake Granbury, and Lake Limestone, and also contracts for conservation storage space in eight US Army Corps of Engineers reservoirs in the basin: lakes Whitney, Aquilla, Proctor, Belton, Stillhouse Hollow, Georgetown, Granger, and Somerville.

In July, Andress will hit 17 years with the BRA.

She started with the organization as an admin. As positions became available, she moved throughout the company, expanding her skillset and sharing her talents and newfound knowledge within the BRA.

“I have helped in all the areas. I can’t even keep up with it,” she said with a laugh. “I’ve probably worked in every department except finance and government and customer relations.”

Outside the water

Born and raised in Waco, Andress has moved away three times but always returned. She has a graphic imaging degree from Texas State Technical College and a business degree from Tarleton State University.

For Andress, it’s the people that have kept her with the BRA, both those she works with in the office and those who hold the water contracts.

“I just really like working with people,” she said. “I’ve just enjoyed it. I like learning new things. I love the position that I have. I’m weird, I like keyboard entry stuff and paperwork. That’s up my alley -- doing what I do.”

When she’s not entering numbers, she enjoys spending time with her family. Andress said she likes to spend her free time with her partner of 14 years, her 28-year-old son Gage and 26-year-old son Brendan. She used to run a lot during the week and compete in races. But once her grandchildren were born, she stopped running and started chasing the three toddlers -- Bryson turned 4 in June, Rhett turns 4 in November and Amelia turned 2 in September.

“They keep me busy,” she said.