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Posted on: August 24, 2023

Understanding Fair Oaks Ranch's Water System: Capacity, Storage, and Availability

LOGO - Olive Green (Draft)

As a resident of Fair Oaks Ranch, it is important to have a clear understanding of how the City manages its water resources.

On August 1, 2023, the City of Fair Oaks Ranch issued an Urgent Water Conservation Notice to all residents and Fair Oaks Ranch Utilities customers. This notice was issued after significant strain caused by high demand was placed on the system leading to pump failure in one of the City’s water plants. We understand the notice was issued suddenly and may have caused alarm for some residents. 

With that in mind, we would like to further explain the City’s water system, why notices issued like the one on August 1 are necessary, and how we all can help avoid potential system failure in the future.

Understanding Fair Oaks Ranch's Water System: Capacity, Storage, and Availability

As a resident of Fair Oaks Ranch, it is important to have a clear understanding of how the City manages its water resources. Fair Oaks Ranch receives its water supply from two main sources: the Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority (GBRA) and pumped groundwater from the Trinity aquifer. The City purchases 1.2 million gallons of water per day from GBRA to meet baseline demand and produces up to 2 million gallons per day during the summer months to meet higher demands.

However, the City faces challenges due to the ongoing drought, leading to slower groundwater replenishment. The more water we pump from the underground aquifers, the less there is available in the long run. And, as aquifer levels get lower, the pumps must work harder to get the water from the ground resulting in a less efficient system. This emphasizes the importance of water conservation and smart usage during these dry periods.

Below is a visual aid showing consumer consumption from April 1 to August 1.

Consumer Consumption April 1, 2023 to August 1 2023

If we couple limited and lessening groundwater that the City is able to pump with the fixed amount of water the City receives from GBRA, we can see the City’s total water production is approximately 3.2 million gallons of water. Consumption has surpassed the City’s total water production capacity 10 times since the beginning of July, putting a heavy strain on the system.

The water from all sources - GBRA and pumped groundwater - is collected and stored in the City's storage tanks. Fair Oaks Ranch currently has a total storage capacity of approximately 2.1 million gallons. This stored water is then distributed throughout the city's water system to ensure a consistent supply to our residents.

The limited storage capacity becomes problematic during times of continued high-water demand. If the demand surpasses the capacity of a storage tank, the water levels can drop below a critical level of 5 feet. When this happens, the pumps responsible for distributing water automatically shut down to prevent damage to the system. As a result, the total amount of water available in the distribution network decreases, leading to a drop in water pressure at homes and businesses.

In some cases, when the water pressure drops to below 20 pounds per square inch (PSI), the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) requires the City to issue a boil water notice. This notice informs residents that they should boil their water before consuming it as a precautionary measure to ensure safety. This potential outcome led to the Urgent Conservation of Water Notice that was distributed on August 1, 2023. Mondays and Tuesdays are high water demand days and put a significant strain on our water system. As accumulated demand continued to grow, pumps in Plant 1 began shutting down to prevent damage. During that time, it became imperative for customers to begin conserving water to prevent more pump shutdowns and system failure. The City continued pumping and receiving water during this time and was not in danger of exhausting its total water supply. However, the time it takes to refill the storage tanks is extensive. It is during this time that the system is at its most vulnerable and requires conservative usage to maintain stability. 

To avoid reaching critical water levels and to prevent water pressure from dropping to the point of issuing boil water notices, water conservation is crucial. During drought conditions, groundwater replenishment becomes slower, making it imperative for residents to be mindful of their water usage. Conservation efforts can make a significant difference in maintaining an adequate water supply for all.

One area where residents can make a big impact is through smart irrigation practices. Here are some tips on how to use water more efficiently for outdoor watering:

  • Watering Schedule: Water lawns and gardens early in the morning or late in the evening when the temperatures are cooler to minimize evaporation. Also respect the assigned day on which you water according to the City’s irrigation schedule
  • Rain Sensors: Install rain sensors on irrigation systems to automatically shut off when it rains, avoiding overwatering.
  • Drip Irrigation: Use drip irrigation systems for gardens and landscapes. They deliver water directly to the plant roots, reducing water waste.
  • Mulching: Apply mulch around plants and trees to retain moisture and reduce the need for frequent watering.
  • Regular Maintenance: Check irrigation systems for leaks, clogs, or broken sprinkler heads. Fixing these issues promptly can save significant amounts of water.
  • Hand Watering: Consider hand watering for small areas, as it allows for better control over water usage.

For its part, the City understands the limiting nature of our current storage capacity and is actively working on long-term and short-term solutions. In the short term, the City Council has programmed a new ground-level storage tank. The ground-level storage tank will increase the City’s storage capacity by 500,000 gallons. 

In the long term, the City plans to construct an elevated water storage tank (EST). In addition to adding another 500,000 gallons of storage capacity to the system, an elevated storage tank will help maintain pressure in the system when demand is high. The EST will enable the City to meet minimum fire flow requirements to combat a house fire and provide water in the event of a power outage. The elevated storage tank and additional capacity will alleviate some of the issues that can be caused by high demand, but not all of them. Water conservation and smart usage will still be crucial. 

In conclusion, understanding the concepts of water capacity, storage, and availability is essential for all Fair Oaks Ranch residents. By conserving water and using it wisely, we can ensure a stable and sustainable water supply even during drought conditions. Additionally, the City is working to address the storage issue through the construction of new storage tanks and continuing its commitment to providing a reliable and safe water supply for our community both now and in the future. But it will take all of us, as responsible residents, to safeguard this precious resource for generations to come.

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