Big: Size, cost, scope make area water project largest in U.S.

Jack Z. Smith Special Projects Reporter Fort Worth Business Press

It lacks a sexy, catchy name. And, unlike Kim Kardashian or Miley Cyrus, it’s gotten little media attention. Nevertheless, the Integrated Pipeline Project is a mammoth and important undertaking, as symbolized by its hefty price tag, the gigantic pipes it will require, its marathon construction timetable of 20-plus years, the thousands of people it will employ and the heightened water-supply capability it will provide for fast-growing North Central Texas. A project this big and costly doesn’t come without a price. It already is putting upward pressure on retail water rates charged by Fort Worth and other cities, and that trend is expected to continue well into the future. The joint $2.3 billion project of the Tarrant Regional Water District (TRWD) and Dallas Water Utilities (DWU) will entail construction of 149 miles of new pipeline and related infrastructure running from Lake Palestine in East Texas to Benbrook Lake in Tarrant County, with connections to the TRWD’s Richland-Chambers and Cedar Creek reservoirs in East Texas. The end result is expected to be greater pipeline capacity that will allow delivery of about 350 million more gallons of water per day to North Central Texas for the Tarrant and Dallas systems combined. For Fort Worth and much of the western side of the Metroplex, it means the volume of raw water that TRWD can deliver from its two biggest sources of water – Richland-Chambers and Cedar Creek reservoirs – will rise by 197 million gallons per day, a 52 percent increase in capacity. More than two-thirds of that increased capacity is expected to be realized by 2020, and the rest by about 2030, said David Marshall, the TRWD’s engineering services director, in an interview with the Fort Worth Business Press. The increase in water-delivery capability from those two reservoirs, coupled with advances in water conservation, could delay by decades the need for TRWD, the dominant supplier of raw water to Tarrant County, to secure new sources of water, Marshall said.

Nickname The Integrated Pipeline Project, known in engineering circles by its shorthand name of IPL (derived from “integrated pipeline”), is “probably the largest ongoing water project of any kind in the U.S.,” Marshall said. Construction is expected to begin in the spring. Completion of the entire project isn’t expected until about 2035. But more than $214 million in contracts already have been issued, with much of that money going for planning, design and engineering. The project is expected to employ hundreds of contractors and subcontractors, and create thousands of jobs at one time or another over its extended life, TRWD spokesman Chad Lorance said. No specific hiring estimates have been made. Putting the $2.34 billion project cost into perspective, it is 67 percent more than the entire fiscal 2014 operating budget for the city of Fort Worth, the nation’s 16th largest city with more than 6,000 employees and a population estimated at 777,992 in 2012. The IPL’s cost could wind up being much higher than $2.34 billion, which doesn’t include calculations for inflation over the life of the project. About 60 percent of the estimated project cost, or about $1.4 billion, is to be borne by TRWD and 40 percent by DWU. TRWD is bearing a bigger portion primarily because it will receive a larger benefit from the project in terms of increased pipeline capacity.

Bonds The project is being financed with revenue bonds issued by TRWD and DWU, with the debt to be paid back from the two agencies’ water sales. The TRWD already has issued $191 million in bonds for the project and anticipates another issuance of $302 million in 2014. The TRWD also received a loan of $101.6 million in 2010 from the Texas Water Development Board to design the pipeline project. In order to pay down the bond debt, the TRWD already has begun raising the prices it charges wholesale customers buying its raw water, including its primary customers – Fort Worth, Arlington, Mansfield and the Trinity River Authority. Cities generally are expected to pass on their higher raw-water costs to retail water customers, including households and businesses. Fort Worth is raising city water rates modestly effective Jan. 1, primarily as a result of an approximately 10 percent jump in raw-water rates charged by TRWD. From 2009 to 2020, the increase in TRWD’s raw-water rates related to the IPL project is estimated at about 11 percent per year, the TRWD said in response to questions from the Business Press. A breakdown of projected costs for the IPL shows an expense of nearly a billion dollars – $987.4 million, to be exact – just for the pipeline construction. There’s also $543.1 million primarily for pump stations; $387.8 million for design, engineering, construction management and testing; $141.4 million for land and easement acquisition for pipeline right-of-way; and $112.6 million for burrowing tunnels under highways, rivers, urban areas and other locations where excavating a trench to lay pipe isn’t feasible. There’s $10.7 million for a remote computer monitoring system for the new pipelines and related infrastructure, plus an $83.2 million contingency fund.

- FWBP Digital Partners -

Other costs Other costs are not as easy to quantify. A Dallas man, Monty Bennett, has filed a lawsuit against the TRWD in an attempt to stop the IPL pipeline from crossing his East Texas ranch property. Bennett claims in the lawsuit, pending in a state district court in Fort Worth, that the water district violated the state open meetings law in deliberations regarding the project. The TRWD has contended in court papers that Bennett’s claims are “groundless.” That legal battle has already had a political cost. Bennett was a major financial contributor to candidates challenging incumbent TRWD board members in an election last spring. One challenger, Mary Kelleher, was elected to the board. The TRWD, in response to a question from the Business Press, said Dec. 12 that it has paid approximately $190,000 to the Fort Worth law firms of Kelly, Hart & Hallman and Pope, Hardwicke, Christie, Schell, Kelly and Ray for legal services in the lawsuit filed by Bennett. The pipeline cost is enormous because of its extensive length through five counties, the work it will take to lay the line and the extra-husky pipe sizes needed to carry huge volumes of water. The IPL will begin at the south end of Lake Palestine (where Dallas has water rights) on the east edge of Henderson County and run northwest through Henderson, Navarro, Ellis, Johnson and Tarrant counties to Benbrook Lake, with connections to Richland-Chambers and Cedar Creek reservoirs. The IPL is “integrated” in the sense that a large portion of the new pipeline will carry raw water for both the TRWD and DWU systems.

Big The pipe being used is so massive that the TRWD’s Marshall, who is 6 feet, 4 inches tall, can easily stand upright inside it and have ample headroom left. Much of the pipe, probably a majority, will be 108 inches, or nine feet, in diameter, Marshall said. The smallest pieces will be 84 inches, or seven feet, in diameter. Either steel or prestressed concrete pipe will be used, depending on the bids offered. A truck can typically carry only a single piece of the pipe, Marshall said. A piece of steel pipe typically is 40 to 50 feet long and a prestressed concrete piece is 16 feet long but heavier, he said. That means transportation costs are very high for bringing large quantities of pipe from long distances, Marshall said. Fortunately, there are local pipe plants in Saginaw and Grand Prairie, he said. Marshall said Northwest Pipe of Saginaw has been ramping up its operations in expectation of participating in the IPL project. Northwest Pipe officials could not be reached for comment. Most soils in the pipeline right-of-way path generally are “soft,” Marshall said, so excavation can be done “for the most part with a backhoe.” Laying a single piece of pipe likely will require excavating a trench roughly 14 feet wide and 15 feet deep, Marshall said. “We want to have four to five feet of cover over the top of the pipe,” he said.

Timeframe The project will take years because of its massive scale and the time it takes a plant to manufacture the huge quantities of pipe required, Marshall said. “It takes about nine months to a year to build about 15 miles of pipe,” he said, referring to manufacturing the pipe. The new pipeline will enable the TRWD to draw the full amount of water from the Richland-Chambers and Cedar Creek reservoirs that the state allows, Marshall said. The pipeline capacity is projected to increase the potential flow of water from Cedar Creek by 140 million gallons a day by 2020 and from Richland-Chambers by 57 million gallons a day by about 2030. “This pipeline gives us the peaking capacity to deliver the water when we need it and where we need it,” he said. The combination of the new pipeline and the existing Richland-Chambers and Cedar Creek pipelines also will give the TRWD important “redundancy,” providing greater flexibility to shut down portions of one line for maintenance while continuing to operate the others, Marshall said. In addition, the old and new lines will be served by different electric substations that are far apart, so if a power outage shuts down the water-pumping system on one line, water still can be transported through another line unaffected by the outage, Marshall said. Richland-Chambers and Cedar Creek make up the TRWD’s East Texas system, which delivers “at least 80 percent of the water” that goes to Tarrant County, Marshall said. Therefore, “we want to make sure it’s as rock-solid as possible,” he said. The IPL project also will include construction of a “balancing reservoir” near Midlothian, which is in northwest Ellis County. This reservoir will be able to store 400 million gallons of water, providing an extra supply source in a time of extremely heavy water demand or if a pipeline is down for maintenance.

Conservation Without the new IPL pipeline, “we would be looking for new water supply by 2020,” Marshall said. With the new line, “it will be at least 2035” before a new water supply will be needed, he said. But with the new line and continued reduction in water use through conservation measures, the district potentially might not need a new water supply until 2040 to 2050, or perhaps even until 2060, Marshall said. “It just depends on how far we can take conservation,” he said. The TRWD has embraced conservation efforts that include city-enforced programs to curb water use during dry periods, such as restricting lawn watering. The TRWD also operates a system that consists of sedimentation ponds and wetland cells that naturally treat water diverted from the Trinity River and put it back into the Richland-Chambers Reservoir for future use, rather than it letting it flow downstream. This effort recently has been putting 50 million to 70 million gallons of water per day back into Richland-Chambers, the TRWD’s Lorance said. A similar water re-use project is planned for Cedar Creek Reservoir. The TRWD provides a raw-water supply for more than 1.8 million people and 70 cities in 11 counties, with Fort Worth and Arlington accounting for more than half the population served. But the water district’s customer base is projected to more than double to 4.3 million by 2060, prompting a need to both find new sources of water and increase conservation. Tom Gooch, a vice president of the Fort Worth-based Freese and Nichols engineering firm, which is doing work on the IPL project, said it is “very large” in terms of the cost, huge pipe sizes that will be required and length of the new pipeline system. “One hundred and forty-nine miles of pipe is a lot to build,” said Gooch, a 32-year veteran of Freese and Nichols who works in water resource planning. “I think, by any measure, this is a really major project and very important to the long-term future of this part of the state,” said Gooch, who has been heavily involved in regional water planning for years. Marshall said the IPL project has achieved a “milestone” by establishing a strong working relationship between the TRWD and DWU, a department of the city of Dallas. “We trust each other and see that we do business the same way,” Marshall said. That’s important, he said, because regional cooperation increasingly will be needed for future water projects.

- Advertisement -

To contact Jack Smith –

Updated Dec. 17 to note that the funds received from the Texas Water Development Board were a loan, not a grant.