Dakota Tawater

Parker County Special Utility District General Manager Dakota Tawater discusses the filtration system at the water supplier’s desalination plant, which treats Brazos River water. The plant has been approved by the Texas Water Development Board for an expansion that will double its output.

The news is promising at the Parker County Special Utility District, where the water supplier for much of the county’s southwest corner is poised to expand a unique treatment plant and hopefully end a 3-year-old ban on new service.

A $12 million upgrade to its desalination plant, on Tidwell Road just west of the Dennis bridge, could re-open the gate to new customers.

“Exactly,” General Manager Dakota Tawater said of the prospect of ending the new-meter moratorium, now in its sixth extension. “That’s what we’re hoping.”

Tawater said planners hope the plant expansion, which is in preliminary stages now, can be completed in about 15 months.

“We’re doing everything we can to decrease that number,” he said. “We’re doing everything we can to speed up that project as much as we can.”

Doubling the desalination plant’s output, and an infrastructure upgrade that’s in the pipeline, also could lift the supplier’s roughly 1,900 customers from a state-ordered rationing declaration that began in the summer of 2018.

Under the Stage 1 rationing mandate, customers are to limit “non-essential watering,” (including washing windows and vehicles, using a lawn sprinkler or filling/draining swimming pools), to the hours outside of 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Also, lawn sprinkler use is limited to once a week, with the last number of an address setting the day (Monday: 0, 1; Tuesday: 2,3; Wednesday: 4,5; Thursday; 6,7; and Friday: 8, 9).

The not-for-profit water corporation also is laying plans for expansion, including construction of a water tower on an an unused hill at Brock ISD and pipeline easements at the district’s perimeter.

“They were gracious enough to give us a site for that tower,” Tawater said of the Eagles board of trustees.

Mike McSwain, chief financial officer at the 3A school district, said the water supplier’s plans will increase water pressure where it’s needed, including to fire suppression water sprinklers in newly constructed campuses

“We’re just allowing for system expansion for the good of the whole community,” McSwain said, adding the half-acre hilltop tower site is ideal for the tower. “It’s never going to be used, so it’s just a good location.”

The timing of the tower and expanded, widened pipeline network awaits a Texas Water Development Board loan, just like the desalination plant upgrade did, Tawater said.

The plant loan came through recently, and work has begun to expand the plant’s roughly 1 million gallon-a-day output to 2 million gallons a day.

In addition to scrubbing out the saline deposits, which are courtesy of the Salt Fork of the Brazos, the plant’s microfiltration network eliminates bacteria, algae and even bugs.

“It’s the only thing that’ll stop (salt) at the molecular level,” Tawater said, describing the two-stage reverse osmosis process that water from a 3.5 acre-foot retention pond behind the plant undergoes (an acre-foot of water is the amount that will cover one acre a foot deep, about 325,900 gallons).

The process also inserts minerals back into the flow, reversing a negative charge and boosting the pH level.

No fluoride is added. The supplier has no lead pipelines and is replacing the few copper lines remaining from its 1976 creation.

“It’s good,” Tawater said of the desalinated water’s taste. “It’s just pretty good water. This is our main water source.”

In addition to the plant, Parker County SUD buys up to 400,000 gallons a day under its contract with Mineral Wells, via Lake Palo Pinto.

Like its peers statewide, the supplier has undergone challenging times as its board of directors battles recurring drought and probes ways to increase supply to the growing community — and potentially lower what customers pay.

“That’s the end goal,” Tawater said, “is to lower water rates.”

The rural water carrier is one of 10 or so wholesale water producers in Parker County, which is one of 16 counties in the North Central Texas Regional Water Planning Area, or Region C.

The region published its 2021 update to the state’s 50-year Master Water Plan in July. Stretching to 2070, the plan identifies needs and supplies from all water sources. It also recommends strategies to meet current and long-range water needs.

The strategies recommended for Parker County SUD are water conservation by customers and expansion of the desalination plant.

Desalination plants, designed to remove salt from a water source, are rarely built anywhere but a seacoast. The inland salt-removal plant is needed because of high salt content flowing downstream from the Salt Fork of the Brazos River. Tawater said there are similar facilities at Possum Kingdom Reservoir and in Granbury.

He said the plant west of Dennis began treating the brackish (salty) river water in October 2013.

“It was built because, at the time, we were in a five-year drought,” he said, adding the district’s Mineral Wells water source was experiencing the same water supply jeopardy the rest of the state was facing. “And it was getting more and more scary.”

It’s not so scary anymore. But any water manager in growing Parker and Palo Pinto counties will confess to the challenge of meeting surging demand from new homes popping up.

Tawater’s governing board applied for state funds to expand their desalination plant three years ago. That’s a few seconds ago in state agency time, but an eternity for water suppliers.

Tawater said Texas Rep. Phil King, R-Weatherford, got the project off of high-center with a phone call.

King said from the Capitol this past week he’s learned that part of his job is to get things unstuck from some state agency’s bureaucracy.

“That was the situation in this case,” he told the Weatherford Democrat. “Over the years you just make relationships and learn who to call. Glad we were able to help keep things moving along on this. Whether the project proceeds should be determined on its merit, not on agency bureaucracy.”

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