The city of Waco faces steep competition as it seeks $5.8 million in Texas Water Development Board financing for a wastewater reuse project, but the water-wise nature of the project could give it a leg up.

The new voter-approved State Water Implementation Fund for Texas, or SWIFT, is offering $800 million in financial assistance this year for projects in the state water plan. By last week’s application deadline, 48 entities had applied for a total funding request of $5.5 billion.

City of Waco officials think their project has an edge because of a requirement that 20 percent of SWIFT funds be spent on conservation and reuse projects.

The city plans to use its requested money to build a pipeline east across the Brazos River to carry treated water from the regional treatment plant on the river to East Waco, Bellmead, Lacy Lake view and Texas State Technical College.

That would give irrigators and industrial water users a chance to buy lower-priced water for nonpotable uses, such as growing grass or cooling buildings. The pipeline could carry up to 2 million gallons a day.

“That’s smart, because it stretches our potable water supply and makes Lake Waco last longer,” Waco Assistant City Manager Wiley Stem said. “It’s really kind of a big deal for Waco and all of McLennan County to take full advantage of our water resources.”

Cost-effective move

Stem said the city and its partners in the Waco Metropolitan Area Regional Sewer System are already planning a $40 million project to replace a lift station and major trunk lines that span the river. He said it would be cost-effective to include the parallel pipelines for wastewater along with that project.

The WMARSS already contracts to sell up to 15 million gallons of treated wastewater a day to the Sandy Creek Power Plant in Riesel, and it has built the first phase of a line that could send 7 million gallons a day to the Texas Central Industrial Park.

Ultimately, the regional sewer system could reuse all or most of the water that it treats at the sewer plant, which is about 22 million gallons on a low-flow day, Stem said.

Officials with the Texas Water Development Board this spring will narrow the list of SWIFT applications and ask for more information from the short-listed entities. By year’s end, it will award the financing, which could include subsidized interest rates or deferred payment.

TWDB spokesman Merry Klonower said the agency expects to continue to have about $800 million annually for the SWIFT program, which was created by a constitutional amendment two years ago.

Klonower said the TWDB hasn’t yet analyzed all the applications, and she couldn’t say how many of the proposed projects involved water conservation or reuse, which will get 20 percent of the funding.

From a brief description of the projects on the agency’s website, only a handful of projects appear to be conservation-oriented. The city of San Angelo is seeking $150 million for a project to turn wastewater into potable water. A couple of South Texas entities are seeking money to line canals, which also saves water.

Klonower said several Texas communities have pioneered wastewater reuse, including drought-stricken Wichita Falls, which has an emergency project to turn wastewater into drinking water.

“Communities in Texas are at the forefront of looking at innovative solutions to solving their water shortages,” she said.

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