City of Houston
The City of Houston has not undertaken the same level of water conservation effort put forth by other major cities in Texas. The City has not set ambitious targets for per capita water use reduction nor adopted a wide range of BMPs. In recent years, however, the City has installed a metering system to help customers access real-time water use information, taken steps to address its historically high water loss rate, built a water education center, and created a Green Building Resource Center to assist residents interested in water and energy efficiency.
Houston is the largest city in Texas with a population of over 2.2 million. The City provides retail water service to over 488,000 single-family, multi-family, and commercial, industrial, and institutional connections. The City is also the largest wholesale water provider in the region, supplying water to 274 contract customers such as municipal utility districts (MUDs), regional water authorities, industries, and other municipalities. The City of Houston draws its water supplies from several sources, including Lakes Houston, Conroe, and Livingston, the San Jacinto River, bayous, and groundwater pumping. Houston is in the Region H water planning area.
Houston has had a moderate rate of per capita water use, compared to historical rates in some other cities, likely in part a result of Houston’s annual average rainfall of almost 50 inches, which reduces the need for outdoor watering. In 2013 the GPCD for the City’s retail customers was 144. Houston has set a water use reduction target of only 1.6% over the next five years, which would bring GPCD down to only slightly below 142 – hardly an aggressive target for a water utility that has not undertaken a comprehensive water conservation program.
Houston historically has had a very high water loss rate in its distribution system. As reported in its 2014 WCP, the historic five-year water loss experienced by Houston was 14 percent. The City of Houston has undertaken an active effort to curb this water loss – including acquiring state financial assistance to replace water lines – and Houston reports that it has decreased its loss to around 11%. But that remains a high volume of water loss for a utility the size of Houston.
Some of Houston’s recent initiatives have the potential for reducing water use. For example, the City’s new Automated Meter Infrastructure (AMI) network transmits water use data through radio waves ultimately to a central computer where the data may be accessed by customers. As of early 2014, about 75% of retail customer accounts were on the network, but only 10% of single-family customers had signed up to review the data generated.
Having real-time water use data is a key tool for a customer to be able to reduce that use. However, once the data is available customers must take steps to curb excessive water use. The City’s Green Building Resource Center has information on how to do that, but the City may need to provide services such as water use audits and water fixture rebates or retrofits to encourage customers to take action. A new PACE program adopted by the City of Houston in late 2015 may offer an attractive source of funding for water efficiency improvements by the owners of commercial, industrial, and multi-family residential properties in the City and its ETJ.