Water is one of the most important resources on earth since it is not only used by the human population but also other living organisms. In the last decade, the populations of most American cities have significantly increased. Additionally, these cities have recorded a remarkable increase in industrial activities. Consequently, the demand for water for both domestic and industrial use has sharply increased.
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The problem of water scarcity has been exacerbated by adverse climatic conditions such as draughts which, naturally, reduce water supply. Similarly, human activities such as manufacturing and construction have led to pollution of water sources, thereby reducing the supply of clean water.
This paper focuses on the supply of water in Houston in Harris County. In this regard, the water sources in Houston and their management will be discussed. In addition, my satisfaction with the water supply to my home, and how I can contribute to water conservation will be discussed.
Houston mainly depends on ground water for its industrial and domestic water needs. Approximately, 71% of the water used in Harris County is drawn from ground water sources. These sources include lakes, ponds, rivers, springs and streams. The county’s main sources of ground water include Lake Livingstone, Lake Houston, Lake Conroe, Trinity River and San Jacinto River. Figure 1 illustrates the area covered by San Jacinto River.
Water from Lake Conroe is not used in Houston, while Lake Houston contributes only 10% of the city’s ground water supply (Forrest, 2012). The ground water sources are supplemented by man-made water sources such as reservoirs, wells and boreholes. Some of these sources include Evangeline well and Chicot Aquifers. Figure 2 illustrates the types of wells in Harris County. The man-made sources of water account for, approximately 29% of Houston’s water supply (Forrest, 2012).
Rain water plays an insignificant role in direct water supply due to underdevelopment of rain water harvesting systems. Most residential and commercial buildings do not have the facilities that are required for collection and treatment of rain water. Thus, most of the rain water is channeled to nearby rivers and streams. Overall, Houston has access to 1.2 billion gallons of ground water per day (Harris County 2012). This supply is considered to be sufficient for the city’s water needs for the next fifty years.
Figure 1: Map of San Jacinto River and the surrounding watershed
Following the increase in land subsidence in Houston, the City has been forced to develop plans to reduce its dependence on ground water. Land subsidence occurs when the land surface sinks due to the compression of the layers of clay below it. In Houston, this phenomenon is mainly attributed to withdrawal of large amounts of water from ground sources.
It is feared that many families and businesses may lose their premises as land subsidence increase. Geologist and environmentalists believe that a shift from the use of ground water to alternative sources is the best way to reduce land subsidence in Houston.
However, experience from countries and cities that have successfully shifted to alternative sources of water indicate that the conversion is very expensive. In spite of the challenges associated with the conversion, Harris County has developed a master plan to reduce the use of ground water by 70% and 80% by 2020 and 2030 respectively (Harris County, 2012).
Figure 2: Well Types in Harris County
Houston’s water sources are surrounded and maintained by diverse habitats which include wetlands and forests. These habitats are essentially water catchment areas which play a fundamental role in sustaining water supply in Houston. In particular, forests contribute to water supply by maintaining the water cycle.
The water cycle is the process through which ground water is absorbed by trees, and released to the atmosphere through transpiration. This process leads to the formation of clouds which falls back to the earth surface as rainfall. Wetlands contribute to water supply by maintaining ground water close to the earth surface.
Thus, drilling and pumping ground water becomes easier. It is worth noting that these habitats are also homes to animals and plants which compete with humans for the ground water. Nevertheless, the habitats that surround water sources must be protected since they help in replenishing the stock of ground water.
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Management of Water Sources
The entire Lake Houston is under the ownership of Houston City. However, only seventy percent of Lake Livingston and Conroe is controlled by Houston City. Houston will also own 70% of Allens Creek Reservoir (Harris County, 2012). The city has hired independent water agencies to assist with the management, operation, as well as, maintenance of the aforementioned water sources. Some of these agencies include the Trinity River Authority which oversees the operation of Lake Livingston.
The San Jacinto River Authority manages Lake Conroe. Lake Houston is managed by the Coastal Water Authority. These agencies ensure that the water in the lakes under their control is used responsibly (Harris County, 2012). They take deliberate measures to promote water conservation in order to guarantee sustainable supply of ground water. Houston Drinking Water Operations (DWO) is responsible for delivering water to the end users.
Treatment and disinfection of the water takes place at DWO’s purification plants. Once the water quality standards set by the state and the federal government are met, the water is delivered to consumers through a distribution pipeline that covers over 7,000 miles (Harris County, 2012). Figure 3 illustrates Houston’s waterways and treatment plants. DWO is also involved in water conservation by promoting responsible water usage.
The agency runs education programs which create and disseminate knowledge or information about water conservation. Through these programs, the residents acquire knowledge in the field of water science, water purification or treatment and Houston’s water supply systems.
Figure 3: Waterways and surface water treatment
Protection of Water Sources
The Source Water Protection Group (SWPG) is responsible for protecting Houston’s water sources. This organization executes its mandate through partnerships with government agencies that enforce environmental regulations. Real-time monitoring systems are used at various locations to monitor contamination (Harris County, 2012). Thus, technical officers are able to detect any contamination in the water sources.
SWPG also uses awareness campaigns to sensitize residents on their right to clean water. In this regard, businesses and members of the community are encouraged to report cases of illegal waste discharge or pollution of water sources. Individuals and business entities found guilty of polluting the environment are usually held responsible for their acts.
This involves imposing corrective taxes and fines on water polluters. In some cases, polluters are expected to pay financial compensations to the aggrieved parties in direct proportion to the level of the damage caused by pollution.
Finally, SWPG has a team of devoted scientists who assess the quality of ground water sources in order to detect any pollution or contaminants. This team collects and test water samples from various sources in order to discover the presence of any microorganism or pollutants.
The results of these tests give insights on the level of contamination. Consequently, determining the most appropriate water treatment method becomes easier. Additionally, the type of pollutants found in the water gives important clues on the causes of water pollution. These efforts ensure security over water sources and improve the confidence of consumers concerning water quality.
It is worth noting that protecting raw water sources is the first major step in the process of improving water quality. Contamination of water mainly occurs at the source due to the open access nature of water resources such as lakes and rivers. Thus, any attempt to protect these sources from pollution not only improves the quality of water but also reduces the cost of water purification.
In a nutshell, raw water that is known to be less contaminated will not require heavy investments in purification plants or treatment and disinfection processes. With the reduction in water treatment costs, more funds will be available for the maintenance and expansion of water supply systems in Houston.
Promoting pubic health through the provision of clean and safe water is one of the main objectives of the County of Harris. In order to achieve this objective, DWO is committed to meeting or even exceeding the drinking water regulations/ standards set by the state and federal government.
DWO provides high quality water by actively monitoring for more than one hundred contaminants. Additionally, it complies with more than 90 regulations pertaining to water quality and safety. DWO officers actively participate in water quality research studies which are led by the American Water Works Association (AWWA).
These research projects are meant to devise ways of optimizing and improving the provision of clean and safe water (Harris County, 2012). Consequently, DWO has been able to develop and implement advanced methods of mitigating against microbial contamination of water at its purification plants.
Through source water protection initiatives, the discharge of chemical pollutants into water sources has been reduced significantly. Taken together, these efforts facilitate provision of high quality water in Houston. It is against this backdrop that the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) considers Houston’s water system to be superior.
Control of Water Supply and Pricing
The role of DWO in the provision of water in Houston includes preventing water contamination, managing water treatment plants and pumping stations. However, the responsibility of pricing the water has been delegated to the Harris County Municipal District. The municipal is responsible for billing the consumption of water through meters which are fitted at the consumer’s premises. The customers are expected to settle their water bills before the due date.
The payment can be done through various options which include cheques, bank drafts, cash, visa card and master cards. A late fee is often levied if the customer fails to pay the water bill in full by the due date. The municipal usually disconnect water supply to customers who fail to pay any amount of money towards the settlement of their water bills. However, the defaulters are normally notified of the pending disconnection at least three times. Additionally, the customers have to pay a reconnection fee upon settling the arrears.
The consumers also participate in the management of the water sources. The consumers have a right to question the quality of the water supplied by DWO. Consequently, DWO often includes water quality information in its annual consumer confidence report. The consumers are also allowed to question the accuracy of their water bills. Concisely, consumers who feel that their bills are too high are allowed to verify the accuracy of their bills with the assistance of a DWO officer.
Consumers can also request for an investigation on the causes of sharp increases in their bills such as leaking pipes. Consumers’ participation in water management involves timely payment of their water bills to facilitate uninterrupted supply. The measures taken to provide high quality water are associated with high costs.
For instance, the cost of purifying water has been increasing as the prices of water treatment chemicals increase. Similarly, the cost of pumping water to end users has been increasing due to the escalation of energy costs. This calls for timely payment of water bills so that DWO can have adequate funds to support its operations.
Consumers are also expected to use water responsibly in order to avoid wastages that might reduce future water supply. In this regard, consumers are expected to collaborate with the water supply agencies to implement various water conservation programs and measures. Residents of Houston are expected to play an active role in the fight against water pollution by reporting cases of pollution.
Human activities such as industrial or residential development around ground water sources often cause water pollution through runoff chemicals, pesticides, fertilizers, among other pollutants.
Thus, it is important to include polluters in the process of developing best management practices that facilitate effective water resource management. Such a move will help in determining the optimal pollution and abatement level that neither discourages economic development nor promote water pollution.
Satisfaction with the Water Supply
I am satisfied with the water supply to my home in Houston. My satisfaction is attributed to the following reasons. Firstly, DWO has always worked very hard to ensure that the supply of water is not interrupted by foreseeable risks. Thus, I often enjoy reliable supply of water. DWO is committed to developing water supply infrastructure so that the supply can effectively respond to rising demand.
Over the years, DWO has setup a team of experts which brings together water engineers, scientists, geologists and projects managers to oversee the provision of water in Houston. This team conducts regular evaluations of current water demand in the city. The results of such evaluations inform the planning process and budgetary allocations for future water supply.
Consequently, as demand for water increases in Houston, its supply is also expected to increase proportionately. Secondly, DWO supplies water whose quality exceeds acceptable standards. In addition, DWO’s active involvement in water quality research is a clear indication that future water supply will be of better quality and more reliable. Hence, the possibility of getting infections or diseases as a result of consuming the water supplied to our homes will be minimal.
Thirdly, the water billing system is convenient and customer friendly. This is illustrated by the fact that customers can pay their bills through methods that are convenient to them. The dedicated customer support team also makes the payment process easier. However, the efficiency of the payment system can still be improved since payment methods such as cheques take up to three days to be processed.
Water conservation is a process in which measures or strategies which help in reducing water usage and enhancing the quality of water are formulated and implemented. The main objective of water conservation efforts is to ensure sustainable water supply. This objective can only be achieved if the rate at which water is drawn from the ground sources does not exceed the replacement rate.
This means that Houston’s water resources will be depleted if the amount of water in these resources falls below a critical minimum. Thus, it is important to conserve water so that the limited supply can meet our current and future demands for the resource. Water conservation also helps in reducing energy consumption and conservation of wildlife habitats. The energy used to pump water to our premises can be reduced significantly if water consumption is reduced.
At the family level, the following measures can be taken to conserve water. To begin with, wasteful water consumption can be reduced significantly if taps are not left running when performing activities such as washing dishes or shaving. Advanced water saving technologies can also be adopted by families to reduce wasteful water consumption. Such technologies include low-flow shower heads, low-flow toilets and automatic faucets.
Similarly, covering swimming pools when they are not in use can help in reducing the loss of water due to evaporation. Waste water used in homes can be recycled and used for activities such as flashing toilets and cleaning cars. The use of water for non-core activities such as irrigating flowers should be minimized. This can be achieved by planting draught resistant plants which require little or no irrigation in order to survive.
Evaporation in flower gardens can be reduced by simply covering the area around plants with a layer of mulch. The mulch will not only reduce the rate of evaporation, but will also discourage the growth of weeds in the garden. Apart from using mulch, flower gardens and lawns should be watered only when it is necessary.
Families should always check their toilets and faucets for leakages. Any damages to these facilities should be fixed immediately to prevent loss of water through leakages. As we exhaust ground water supply, we should focus on alternative sources such as rain water. In this context, families should invest in rain water harvesting equipment such as outdoor water tanks.
Finally, I work for a helicopter company that uses a lot of water to clean its helicopters on a daily basis. The company can conserve water by recycling the water used to wash the helicopters. Additionally, the helicopters can be washed after every 2 to 3 days rather than daily. This will help in reducing the amount of water used to clean the helicopters.
The main sources of water in Houston include lakes, rivers, aquifers, reservoirs and wells (Harris County, 2012). Currently, the amount of water held by these sources is considered enough to meet the city’s water needs for the next fifty years. Due to the rapid increase in land subsidence, Houston has to find alternative water sources.
This conversion is expected to be very expensive and might take a very long time to achieve. Through effective water supply management practices, residents of Houston City have been able to enjoy reliable supply of high quality water. Some of the measures taken to improve water quality include protecting water sources from pollution, investing in adequate water treatment plants and regulating water supply.
Consumers participate in the management of water sources and supply by reporting cases of water pollution, paying their water bills in time and demanding for information about water quality.
Even though the current water supply in Houston City seems to be adequate, deliberate measures must be taken to ensure that the supply is sustainable. In this regard, families and companies should focus on water conservation and exploit alternative water sources. Some of the methods that can be used to conserve water include recycling waste water, using water saving technologies and planting drought resistant plants to reduce irrigation.
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