In Round Rock, Texas the Forest Creek neighborhood has 1,800 homes and is governed by a Home Owners Association (HOA). The neighborhood has over 2.5 miles of greenbelt lined roads plus a 3 acre park that the HOA is responsible to landscape and irrigate. In 2014, the Forest Creek HOA converted 90% of their community landscape irrigation from potable water to city-produced reclaimed/recycled water. The HOA had been consuming 16.6 million gallons a year of potable water for the community landscaping. The completion of the project resulted in a reduction in demand for potable water by 15 million gallons per year and replaced it with reclaimed water.
Round Rock began offering reuse water in 1998 when it ran dedicated lines from a treatment plant to the city-owned Forest Creek Golf Course. The program expanded in 2012 when the city completed a new wastewater treatment facility capable of converting up to 12 million gallons of wastewater per day into reuse water. At that time plans were made to run new lines to the Dell Diamond Baseball Stadium, Old Settlers Park (570 acres) as well as expanded lines to the Forest Creek Golf Course.
“We are taking wastewater and treating it and reusing it,” Round Rock Utilities Director Michael Thane said. “It is not drinkable, but you can use it for irrigation, manufacturing—all of those type of things.”
As the newly expanded lines would be cutting through Forest Creek to reach the golf course, the Forest Creek HOA Board began a concerted effort to work with the city to connect to the purple pipe recycled water line for their greenbelt needs. The HOA approached city engineers about connecting HOA owned lines to the reclaimed water line and began to develop a framework and timing that could work for both the HOA and the city water reclamation project.
The HOA reached an agreement with the city to build a line connecting the water treatment output to the old line feeding the city golf course. This proposal involved cost sharing between the HOA and the city for the modifications to the treatment plant plumbing. Total city treatment plant re-plumbing costs were estimated at $90,000 and the HOA paid $45,000 of this cost.
The board supported the proposed project and took the proposal to the homeowners at an annual meeting in 2012. The homeowners agreed that the project was both cost effective and good policy, thereby authorizing the expenditure of HOA funds.
The project was completed in May of 2014 and the HOA began using the reclaimed water instead of potable water for the landscaping for 90% of the HOA irrigation needs. (Other areas were not within reach of the recycled water line.)
Total cost to the HOA was under $92,000 and savings are projected to be over $25,000 per year in reduced water costs. Additionally, the HOA will not be impacted by drought and water restrictions because there is no shortage of reclaimed water, allowing the HOA to keep the neighborhood greenbelts and park green, even in drought periods.
The HOA was able to readily fund this project because the community in 2012 had agreed to create a Capital Improvement Reserve Fund. The HOA dues include enough money to fund day to day operations and put aside 20% of each year’s assessments for capital improvements to the neighborhood. By the time this project was shovel ready, there was ample money in the reserves and no increase in dues or special assessment was necessary to fund it.
In communicating with nearby neighborhoods who might also be able to capitalize on the reclaimed water supply, the biggest single problem they had was the lack of a reserve fund to pay for the changes to their irrigation systems. Homeowners are resistant to increases in dues or special assessments, so having a savings plan and reserve fund allows the HOA to look at potential projects without the barrier of the accompanying increasing dues (except those initially incurred to establish the reserve fund.) Once the savings plan starts, it is relatively painless to continue it.
Forest Creek’s project not only helped to conserve potable water, it also served as justification in the City Council’s direction to expand on reusing water. Efforts are being made to reach out to neighboring HOAs to consider planning and saving funds to engage in a purple pipe project of their own for long term savings for their residents.
The major factors to success was flexibility on behalf of the city engineers to incorporate the HOA’s plans into their own expansions as well as forward thinking HOA Board Members to create a Capital Improvement Reserve Fund (much like a city would) two years before the project would be shovel ready to have cash in hand to pay for their portion of the project.
Visit the City’s website for more information.