By Terrence Henry and Shawna Reding
What is Spicewood Beach?
Spicewood Beach is a small community of some 1,100 people about 40 miles outside of Austin, Texas in the Hill County. On January, 30, 2012, it became the first Texas town to run dry during the current drought.
The community sits on Lake Travis, or what’s left of it. The lake is currently at levels not seen for some time.
The Spicewood Beach water system has 500 water meters, one of them belonging to the Spicewood Beach Elementary School. Once the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA) purchased the town’s water system in 1999, the system expanded to include Lakeside Beach, Eagle Bluff and Lake Oaks. While the lakefront location of the community and streets named “Golf Course Drive” give the impression of an opulent neighborhood, the reality is that Spicewood Beach is largely populated by double-wide trailers and retirees on modest budgets.
How Did it Run Dry?
On January 4th, LCRA, which owns and operates the water system in Spicewood Beach, announced Stage 3 water restrictions for the town. It also told two water haulers that had contracted to purchase and withdraw water from the system that they could no longer truck water out from Spicewood Beach.
A few weeks later, on January 23, 2012, the LCRA sent out a release warning that the community’s wells had dropped to dangerously low levels and that they could run dry within weeks. Stage 4 emergency water restrictions — which prohibit all outdoor watering and allow only “essential” use of water were enacted.
Then overnight, the community’s wells dropped over a foot, and the LCRA updated its warning on the wells, saying they could run dry within days.
And that’s exactly what happened. On January 30, 2012 a tanker truck carrying 4,000 gallons of water pulled up to a storage tank in Spicewood Beach and began pumping out water. While water had been trucked out of the community just weeks before, it’s now being trucked in.
Ryan Rowney of the LCRA says the Spicewood wells still produce some water – approximately 15,000 gallons per day. But Rowney says “the problem is that the system needs about 50,000-60,000 gallons of water per day.” So the LCRA trucks in the difference on a daily basis.
Initially the LCRA expected to truck in water for only six to eight more months while a long-term solution was sought. Those five to six loads a day cost about $200 each, and the LCRA absorbs the cost.
Two years later, the LCRA still trucks in water, causing many residents to question whether that long-term solution will ever come to fruition.
A Long-term Solution, Delayed
In early 2013 the LCRA approved a $1.2 million Spicewood Beach Water Treatment Plant Project to be built by Corix Utilities (Texas) Inc. Once complete, the project will include a new raw water intake that will draw water from the surface of Lake Travis as opposed to the previous system that drew from groundwater. The project will also include a surface water treatment plant and the piping necessary to tie the new water plant into the existing distribution system.
Not surprisingly, the project is far behind schedule. The project was initially due to be completed the summer of 2013. Corix Utilities now reports that the new system should be up and running by late May 2014.
Corix Utilities and the LCRA blame the delay of the project on time needed to obtain permits and ship in parts.
Once Corix Utilities finally constructs the project, the company will purchase the new system from the LCRA. Many residents are wary of their new utility company. A Corix representative says that the service will remain the same. In fact, residents will experience the same rates – for a year. After that year, he says the company will likely increase rates to offset operational costs.