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AWU begins laying new water/wastewater lines for southeast Austin

Tuesday, October 6, 2009 by Bill McCann

Workers last week began laying the first section of a 13-mile water line for an ambitious Austin Water Utility program to expand water and wastewater service to a rapidly growing area on the city’s southeastern edge.

The water line eventually will zigzag from Interstate 35 to Pilot Knob as a key part of the utility’s South I-35 Water/Wastewater Program. The program will serve an area that is currently mostly pastureland, but is expected to be transformed into a complex of commercial and residential developments over the next several years, in part because of the area’s ready access to major roadways.

The service area’s boundaries are roughly Interstate 35 on the west, FM 1327 on the south, FM 1625 on the east and the future East Slaughter Lane extension on the north. The area is partly in Austin and partly in its extraterritorial jurisdiction. The area is due north of State Highway 45 and just west of State Highway 130.

The program’s first project is the water line, which is to be built in 21 segments. Pipe installation for the first section, Segment 15, began on Sept. 30. The segment consists of 1,550 feet of 42-inch and 48-inch-diameter pipe to be installed 10- to 15-feet deep along right-of-way of the East Slaughter Lane extension at the Goodnight Ranch, according to the water utility. Capital Excavation Co. is doing the work on this segment under a $918,000 contract. The work is to be completed by spring. Approval to hire a contractor for the next segment is to go to the Council this month.

In addition to the water line, the program will include a 20-million gallon per day water pump station at the existing Pilot Knob reservoir; a four-million gallon elevated water storage tank along the west side of Interstate 35; and about five miles of wastewater interceptor sewers. The overall program is expected to take several years to complete. Total cost ultimately is expected to be between $100 million and $150 million, according to water utility officials.

The utility initiated the program to get ahead of development in the area by planning for it and by steering growth to the Desired Development Zone and away from the Barton Springs portion of the Edwards Aquifer, said Gopal Guthikonda, the water utility’s assistant director of engineering services. The program also discourages the creation of municipal utility districts in the area to fill the void if the city did not provide service, he said. And it will provide surface water from the Colorado River, rather than from the aquifer, which has fallen significantly in the drought.

“We believe this program will provide long-term solutions to address regional growth,” Guthikonda said. “We think it will be good for the area and for the environment.”

Besides avoiding use of the aquifer and focusing development away from the Barton Springs Zone, the program also will have environmental benefits on the wastewater side, Guthikonda said. These include allowing future closure of the Onion Creek package sewage treatment plant, eliminating trucking sludge through the Onion Creek neighborhood, and removing a sewage lift station and its potential for sewage spills.

Developments that would be served by the new utility system include Alexan Onion Creek, Stratford, Fox Hill, Legends Hill, Goodnight Ranch I and II, and Carma, according to Guthikonda.

The Austin City Council gave the program the go-ahead two years ago, authorizing the water utility to hire URS Corporation to manage the program for the city.

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