As Liberty Hill grows, city leaders look to become ‘water independent’

Investigations

LIBERTY HILL, Texas (KXAN) — Steve Faggard would zig zag across his yard for hours watering with a handheld hose. 

He was desperately trying to save his grass, but it became a challenge during the hot Texas summer. 

Steve Faggard said his grass is dead in spots across his yard due to underwatering. (KXAN Photo/Arezow Doost)
Steve Faggard said his grass is dead in spots across his yard due to underwatering. (KXAN Photo/Arezow Doost)

“You can see the dead areas in the yard where the grass has died,” Faggard said. “Having to cut back to one day a week with a water hose was pretty tough on the yards.”

His family moved to the new Highland Oaks subdivision right before Thanksgiving last year. Most of the homes like Faggard’s sit on an acre lot.

“Sodded the yard, put in all the all the flower beds, all the stone walls, all the irrigation system, hoping to have a beautiful yard here the rest of our life,” Faggard said. “You can drive around the subdivision, see the money that people put into the yards, in the landscaping.”

Unexpected water woes

In July, the City of Liberty Hill moved to Stage 2 Water Restrictions, and homeowners could water only using manually-held hoses, a bucket or watering can of five gallons or less or a drip irrigation system during approved days and hours.  

Outside watering using irrigation systems, automatic sprinklers and hose-end sprinklers was not allowed. 

“Our tanks now need time to replenish due to an equipment malfunction at the Leander plant where our water is treated, so the City is moving to Stage 2 Water Restrictions,” said a Facebook post from the City of Liberty Hill. 

In September, the City of Liberty Hill relaxed water restrictions. (KXAN Photo/Arezow Doost)
In September, the City of Liberty Hill relaxed water restrictions. (KXAN Photo/Arezow Doost)

Another Facebook post to residents in August explained further “a breaker at the Leander treatment plant malfunctioned, causing a depletion in the water tanks. Although the equipment was repaired, water demand is keeping the tanks from fully refilling.”

“There was a bit of an issue that was kind of a mechanical issue with getting the transportation of that water over to us,” explained Liberty Hill council member Chris Pezold. “Leander had a difficult time with their infrastructure.”

There was some relief.

Since September, the city has been allowing the use of an irrigation system once a week, with no restrictions on hand-held watering. 

What does Leander have to do with it?

Pezold has been in office about six months and is leading efforts to solve the city’s water problem. He explained Liberty Hill gets its water from wells and Lake Travis. 

He said since the city doesn’t have a treatment plant, the nearby City of Leander treats and transports the water through pipes. 

A spokesperson with Leander explained when water peaks at times in the summer, the pressure drops significantly for customers, including those in Liberty Hill. 

“Over the last two years, Leander has initiated several large-scale capital projects to improve our water system. In particular, they will improve our ability to provide sustainable water pressures to the city’s northwest sector, which also feeds to Liberty Hill,” said Mike Neu, chief of staff for the City of Leander. 

The City of Liberty Hill owns its own water, but the City of Leander treats and transports the water from Lake Travis. (KXAN Photo/Chris Nelson)
The City of Liberty Hill owns its own water, but the City of Leander treats and transports the water from Lake Travis. (KXAN Photo/Chris Nelson)

Neu said two projects, the construction of a water transmission line and water mains, will improve water service and pressure to Liberty Hill by the end of this month. 

“Construction of the San Gabriel Parkway water mains will allow water to move westward across the city, which would provide redundancy during emergency or high-demand conditions,” Neu explained. “A 24-inch water main would be built as part of the San Gabriel Parkway road extension from CR 270 to Ronald Reagan Boulevard, and it would eventually connect with a new booster station on San Gabriel Parkway. In short, this closes a loop in our water system to allow Leander to push more water to our north and west when needed.”

Neu added the construction of a 3,500 foot long, 24-inch water transmission line from New Hope Road to Kettering Drive will also provide redundancy for Leander’s entire water system with an additional access point to one of the water treatment plants.

Growing Pains 

Pezold said Leander’s improvements will be a big help, but as more families move to Liberty Hill, the city needs to be able to provide its own water sources.

He explained that could include additional wells, new water supply contracts and a treatment system where water could be recycled. 

“I don’t like Liberty Hill having to bend the knee to anybody for water. and we need to get ourselves self-sufficient,” said Pezold. “If you’ve got another city that’s having an issue with water, I don’t care what kind of contract you have, they’re going to take care of their constituents. And so we need to, as Liberty Hill, we need to get water independent.”

Pezold said he’s trying to understand the previous mayor’s role in securing additional water to be treated and transported from Leander.

He’s hoping to have a town hall in December to talk about the city’s water issues. He explained right now, the council is looking into a 30-year plan with so much growth and developers wanting to build in the city. 

“Any developer coming in, we’ve got to have a sustainable source… if they’re going to be taken up a bunch of water, we’ve got to make sure we’ve got plans out in place,” said Pezold. “It’s not a matter of if this is solved, it’s a matter of when it’s going to be solved.”

Homeowners like Faggard said they moved to Liberty Hill to be closer to grandchildren. He’s already spent thousands of dollars on landscaping and is still trying to save what he can. 

“They need to lift water restrictions and let us get back to normal water,” Faggard said. “I can tell you, we had about three inches of rain in the last four weeks. So, you can see just the rainwater that we got — it helped green up the yards.”

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