Lakeway MUD continues to make steady progress with our Out of District Wastewater (ODWW) Project, offering homeowners in the first 17 sections of Lakeway the option to convert from septic to public sewer service, although at a slower pace than initially presented in 2018 before the project began (pre-pandemic and supply chain issues), but with more available options.
Pilot Phase allowed for testing of proposed Grinder Pump System
Before this Project, there were several attempts by developers to extend the public sewer system into the first 17 sections of Lakeway. Most of these attempts ultimately failed after proving too costly for the majority of homeowners, however they did result in several areas that had access to public sewer lines that could be used as testing ground for the system we were proposing. The “Pilot Phase” was launched in December 2018 with a selection of interested homeowners allowing us to convert their home from septic to public sewer service utilizing a “low pressure,” also known as a “grinder pump,” sewer system: a tank-and-pump system installed near the discharge line of a home that acts like a whole-house garbage disposal to break up solids in wastewater before it’s pushed into the public sewer system. This system proved effective for the community’s hilly terrain so it continues to be the system we require to be installed at homes that are converted from septic to public sewer in the Project coverage area.
Since launching this Project in 2018, we have faced many unprecedented challenges, including the COVID pandemic, extreme climate variables ranging from Winter Storm Uri in 2021 to the ongoing drought, and the impacts on the economy such as supply shortages, cost increases, and declining labor.
Progress made on Regular Connections
The Project is divided into two phases: Phase 1 includes all the homes around the Live Oak Golf Course (approx. 334 properties) and Phase 2 includes everyone else in the first 17 sections of Lakeway (approx. 861 properties). On May 21, 2019, we broke ground for the installation of the sewer main line extension for Phase 1. Over the next five months, our field team laid approx. 10,000 feet of pipe (two separate lines, for wastewater and recycled water, now available for residential irrigation connections) on the outskirts of the front 9, working along property lines in the City easement area and on the golf course’s property with granted permission. Additional infrastructure improvements were also needed before we could begin connecting eligible homeowners’ properties to these lines to accommodate the future flow capacity, so on March 18, 2020 we contracted with winning bidder, Austin Engineering Company, Inc., at $4.589 million to begin work on the construction of a new lift station, force main, and improvements to our S-5 Water Recycling Plant.
Based on the direction of flow these newly installed sewer main lines take to get wastewater to our treatment plant, in December 2020, we devised a connection route for Phase 1 homes, an order in which we would offer customers a “Regular” connection option. We began installations for these connections in Summer 2021 with homes around hole 1 of the Live Oak Golf Course on Sunfish. By the end of 2022, we completed approx. 100 connections along this route: five of the 14 sections (each section varies in the number of homes it comprises), including homes along the golf course on Sunfish, Porpoise, and Biscayne. We estimate that we have currently completed approx. 32 percent of the connections for Phase 1.
Early Connection Option
Homeowners needing or wanting to connect to the public sewer system before it is made available along their street have the option to sign up for what is called an “Early” connection, which includes an additional upfront fee not assessed to “Regular” connections. Initially, this list was reserved for homeowners with a failing septic system and the LMUD team would schedule these installs between the “Regular” connections. However, too many homeowners were added to the list to keep up with the demand so LMUD management approved the option of performing self-installations. With this option, rather than having to wait on the availability of our crew, once the main sewer line is installed past the property and the homeowner fills out the required paperwork and pays a fee, they are responsible for hiring a qualified plumber and electrician to install the grinder pump system (provided by LMUD) per LMUD specifications. While the costs are considerably higher than they are for customers utilizing our “Regular” connection option, they do allow homeowners the flexibility to connect at their convenience, which has proven effective for homeowners with emergencies (a failed septic system), pending remodels (home addition or pool build) that don’t allow for the space of a drain field or existing capacity of their septic system, or new construction on an empty lot.
By the end of 2022, approx. 345 homes in the Project’s coverage area (including Phase 1 and Phase 2) had been connected to the public sewer system, which we estimate to be about 28 percent of the Project’s completion total.
Late Connection Option
We anticipate that of the homeowners we offer a “Regular” connection to, about 20 percent will opt-out of connecting at that time. This is typically due to the homeowner either having a new or optimally functioning existing septic system or to avoid the wastewater service fees assessed once the home is connected to public sewer. If these homeowners, or the home’s future homeowners, decide to switch from septic to public sewer service after a “Regular” connection has already been offered for that property, the option to convert always remains an option, but as a “Late” connection. The same terms as an “Early” connection (mentioned above) apply.
System Maintenance Plan
On September 11, 2019, LMUD’s Board of Directors, at the regularly scheduled board meeting, approved changes to the Rate Order starting with FY2020 that included the decision to add a grinder pump service fee for LMUD customers who use a grinder pump to connect to the public sewer system. This includes all customers who opt-in to connect as part of the ODWW Project as well as some pre-existing wastewater customers (the rate order discloses that additional fees may apply for repairs to these systems). With this rate change, rather than customers calling a plumbing company, they should contact LMUD to perform all necessary repairs and preventative maintenance required to keep their system functioning properly. Any electrical work as well as repairs or maintenance to the service line remain the responsibility of the homeowner.
Rate and Fee Updates
Since launching this Project in 2018, we have faced many unprecedented challenges, including the COVID pandemic, extreme climate variables ranging from Winter Storm Uri in 2021 to the ongoing drought, and the impacts on the economy such as supply shortages, cost increases, and declining labor. Yet, we have continued to make progress all the while watching our budget to minimize additional expenses passed on to our customers. In December 2022, LMUD had a base rate increase of $2 across the board (impacting all LMUD water and wastewater customers). This was our first base rate increase in over 10 years. Beyond this, a few additional one-time expenses have been passed on to customers choosing to opt-in to connect including pre- or post-construction work that goes beyond our standard assessment of work, electrical work, and the wastewater tap fee.