After more than a decade of design and construction, the joint section of a historic 150-mile pipeline connecting East Texas lakes to the faucets of North Texans is fully operational.
From their new facility in the rural Ennis countryside, employees from the Tarrant Regional Water District and Dallas’ water utility gathered May 20 to celebrate the opening of the $2.3 billion Integrated Pipeline Project.
Because water supply projects like reservoirs or pipelines can consume billions of dollars and years of planning, both sides of the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex ultimately decided the best course of action was to share operational and maintenance costs to bring more water to the region, said Dan Buhman, general manager of the Tarrant water district.
The result, he said, is an infrastructure project that will save $1 billion across the lifetime of the project and reduces the environmental impact associated with constructing two separate pipelines across Texas.
“This is a historic, precedent-setting partnership that we can use as a model for future regionalization,” Buhman told the Report. “This project is somewhat of a template for not just having (water supply) contracts together, but the idea and the feel of Fort Worth and Dallas working together.”
Collaboration between a water district and a city department on a project this size is fairly unusual, said Terry Lowery, the director of Dallas Water Utilities. Financial institutions across the country have asked DFW officials to speak about the pipeline, which also received funding from the Texas Water Development Board.
Final design for the project has been in the works since 2008, when the two government agencies agreed to work together on a tunnel connecting Lake Palestine in East Texas to Lake Benbrook, as well as offering additional access to water in the Cedar Creek and Richland-Chambers reservoirs located southeast of Dallas.
The water district already has its own pipelines to those reservoirs, but is preparing for more demand as the Fort Worth area experiences rapid population growth over the next 50 years. The agency sells raw water to cities across 11 counties, which collectively serve more than 2.3 million residents.
“Your future needs, as Fort Worth or the city of Dallas, are enshrined for the next three or so decades,” Lowery said. “There will be enough water for development, for quality of life, for turning on the tap when you’re at home – all those things that people take for granted. But it takes a long time to put in place.”
Officials celebrated completion of the first major construction phase in 2018, when the first 50 miles of pipeline became operational and pumped more than 40 million gallons of additional water each day from Richland Chambers Reservoir.
The shared pipeline can provide Dallas and the water district with up to 350 million additional gallons of water per day for customers. Dallas is not yet connected to the water supply at Lake Palestine, but plans to complete that project over the next five years.
Dallas and the water district also collaborate on water conservation education campaigns that are then promoted by the district’s customers, including the cities of Fort Worth and Arlington.
In 2021, the water district’s customers saved more than 20 billion gallons of water, Buhman said, which reduced the need to expand the integrated pipeline at the pace the district originally anticipated. Some phases of the project were completed later for that reason, he said.
“That phasing has been good for the ratepayer and for the construction industry,” Buhman said. “I’m optimistic about the time to get the Dallas construction done, and we’re certainly watching the construction market – the price and supply chain issues that have made projects much more challenging across the nation.”
Buhman added that the team working on the project, led by program manager Ed Weaver, already has “great momentum.” Weaver has worked for the water district since he was a teenager in the late 1970s, and was appointed leader of the pipeline project in the late 2000s.
For Weaver, completing such a major phase of the pipeline is a relief. But he knows there’s still much more work to do in the coming years.
“We’re still working behind the scenes,” Weaver said amid the whirring of machines pumping water through pipes in the Ennis facility. “From 1979 to now, I’ve been part of everything that TRWD has built in their system, and there’s a lot of work that goes into a project like this before you ever get here.”
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