What Is This RWA Fee?
Discerning residents have noticed a line-item on their water bill, especially around the time it changes each year. This is the fee collected by the water districts and goes towards the Regional Water Authority (RWA) in the area. Below is a brief description of what the RWAs are and what they do.
On June 18, 1999, the bill (HB 2965) that created the RWAs was signed into law by Texas State Legislature, and called a special election so voters could confirm the creation of a new Authority and elect Directors to lead it. The RWAs became empowered to negotiate for a secure, long-term, reliable, quality supply of wholesale drinking water for all the independent neighborhoods, municipal utility districts, small municipalities, and permitted well owners within its boundaries.
Among the RWAs created was the North Harris County Regional Water Authority (NHCRWA). Resting within the Harris-Galveston Subsidence District (HGSD), known for the greatest impacted area of subsidence in Texas, the new Authority faced an epic challenge: they must secure the future water supply, construct the new water delivery infrastructure, and generate the funding to accomplish it – all within a set timeframe. The enabling legislation also required the new agency to “promote water conservation.”
The residents within the NHCRWA’s boundaries knew very little about the changes on the horizon; not the source, delivery or price of their drinking water. A massive outreach effort encompassing printed and digital media, along with Town Hall meetings and public forums, was launched. Dedicated to fully realizing their mandate, concurrently with the coordination and construction of a new infrastructure the NHCRWA also addressed the “demand” side of the issue. Almost from day one, a strong “use water efficiently” message was included in all communications efforts.
Following the lead of the NHCRWA, the West Harris County Regional Water Authority (WHCRWA) was created by HB 1842, approved by 77th Texas Legislature, and signed into law May 28,2001.
Like the NHCRWA, the WHCRWA was created to accomplish public purposes stated in the Act, including:
- the provision of surface water and groundwater for various uses;
- the reduction of groundwater withdrawals;
- the conservation, preservation, protection, recharge, and prevention of waste of groundwater and of groundwater reservoirs;
- the control of subsidence caused by withdrawal of water from those groundwater reservoirs.
As a result of the increasing threat subsidence posed to these areas, the HGSD adopted a series of regulatory plans to reduce groundwater pumpage, and ultimately mandated, in their 1999 plan, a reduction to only 20% reliance on groundwater by 2030. With the help of the NHCRWA and the WHCRWA, a fair and equitable contract with the City of Houston to supply surface water from Lake Houston was successfully negotiated and construction is already underway in both Authority areas. The goal of the HGSD is to see the same dramatic improvements occur in these areas as were experienced south and east of Houston years ago.
All customers within the boundaries of the Authorities pay a fee as a line on their bill, which is collected by the individual water district that supplies them. This amount is then passed to the Authorities to fund water supply delivery infrastructure and groundwater conservation efforts; the projects and efforts to convert fully to surface water supply for the HGSD area are created through bonds, which these fees repay as they are collected.
The Authorities charge the water districts groundwater and surface water fees based on a Rate Order adopted by their respective Boards of Directors. These fees have funded construction of the initial infrastructure and will continue to cover debt service requirements and bond covenants, as well as to fund the maintenance and operation of the surface water delivery system and construction of future infrastructure. Rates are reviewed annually as part of the budgeting process. Any changes are discussed and must be preceded by a public hearing.
As these improvements are part of the larger goals from the HGSD, the HGSD has implemented a $8.46 per 1,000 gallon disincentive fee for those entities failing to comply with the groundwater reliance reductions and subsidence prevention regulations.
Conservation and sustainability efforts require time and money, along with a dedication to meet or exceed the goals set by entities like the HGSD. In the early 1900’s the greater Houston area did not expect or plan for the amount of growth and water requirements that would come with expansion in the 60’s through present day. The Authorities are providing the ways and means to make sure water continues to flow and subsidence is abated as Houston and surrounding areas continue to grow.
The RWA fees are a necessary part of the cycle of water service and wastewater treatment. They fund the infrastructure that converts the area to utilizing more surface water and reducing subsidence in the HGSD. These efforts are all part of a larger conservation and sustainability goal set by the State Legislature of Texas.