LEANDER, Texas (KXAN) — An underwater pipeline that is vital in the process of converting raw water from Lake Travis to drinkable water for three cities could continue to experience disruptions, the general manager for the Brushy Creek Regional Utility Authority said.

“I sincerely wish we were not here tonight once again to talk about the pipeline failure in our raw water line,” Karen Bondy, the general manager for BCRUA, said during a board meeting on Feb. 22.

The 36-inch pipe separated on Feb. 14, causing the water treatment plant to stop its output of drinkable water to Leander, Round Rock, and Cedar Park. The disruption caused residents in Leander to face water restrictions as the problem was being fixed.

A history of failures

The pipeline was installed in 2011 and did not have its first disruption until December 2020. The problem was fixed and the utility initiated a survey on the pipe. The survey found there were vulnerable areas along the pipeline, and the utility started conducting routine dive inspections.

In March of 2022, the utility started designing a replacement pipeline for the troubled area. Five months later in August, the pipeline experienced a “significant leak” and it had to be shutdown. The pipe was fixed in a month, only to fail once again in February this year.

The utility is still investigating the cause of this most recent failure. During the leak in August, a 25-foot piece of the pipe was replaced and a new piece was attached to the existing pipeline. It is this 25-foot new piece that somehow separated from the old line.

Investigators are looking at the mechanical joints, the alignment of the pipe, and other factors that could have created this previous disruption.

“Any disruption to our system is unacceptable and the fact that we’ve had repeated failures on this line is particularly troubling,” Bondy said.

The impact of disruptions

The BCRUA is a partnership between Round Rock, Leander, and Cedar Park. The cities will pull water from the BCRUA plant, but each city still has its own stand-alone water utility that can provide drinkable water to residents. During this last disruption, no resident lost water service in any city.

Leander did go into water conservation efforts. The city was under Phase 3, which is labeled as a water emergency. Under Phase 3, all residents and commercial businesses had to shut off their irrigation systems.

The recent failure came at a good time in the year. The winter months are the lowest in demand for water, so any disruption of water capacity could be handled.

Leander’s water treatment plant can provide 12 million gallons of water per day (MGD), according to Christine DeLisle, the mayor of Leander.

“It can supply the whole city if we’re not running irrigation systems. That’s what we relied on whenever there’s been a large repair,” DeLisle explained.

DeLisle said the city water demand was fluctuating between six-to-eight MGD. She says the city needs to stay under 9 MGD to be comfortable. The city successfully got by this last disruption, but there are concerns disruptions can still happen.

Bondy said, “given the problems BCRUA has experienced with this section of the pipeline, the BCRUA is concerned that more disruptions could occur,” which means a failure could happen in the summer months when water demand is higher.

“It is one of the things that keeps me up at night honestly,” DeLisle said.

The growing city has taken steps to limit water use, such as limiting the amount of expansion and development in the city, hiring a water conservation coordinator, and partnering with a rain barrel supplier to promote rain water harvesting.

Solutions in the works

The BCRUA is currently in the process of designing and constructing a 1,500 foot replacement pipeline that will run parallel to the troubled pipeline. The pipeline will cost $7 million and will be funded by a grant from Williamson county, Bondy said.

That replacement pipeline is not expected to be finished until spring of 2024. A more long-term fix is in the middle of construction. The utility is building a new deep water intake that will completely eliminate its need for and reliance upon this entire pipeline, but that project will not be done until 2027.

Mayor DeLisle said the city of Leander looks to one day use the utility as its sole provider of drinking water for residents.