Water and Sewer Infrastructure Projects in Texas: An Urgent Need

May 28, 2023

In many American states—including Texas—water and sewer lines have remained mostly unaltered for more than a century. The Odessa water outage illustrates the dangers of aging pipes. The water line that caused the outage was almost 60 years old, and while engineers build such infrastructure to last, many sections are now in need of repair or replacement.

Lead pipes that carry water to homes and businesses are another common problem stemming from aging water lines. A 2016 report estimated that between 15 and 22 million people in the US are served by water service lines made of lead—and replacing those lines could cost more than $30 billion.

To deliver needed repairs to water and sewer lines, states need adequate funding, access to the right technology, and the ability to mitigate risks during the process. With an eye on Texas, let’s consider the problem of aging water infrastructure and how to improve it.

What is the water & sewer line construction industry?

The water and sewer line construction industry consists of contractors who oversee the design, construction, reconstruction, management, and repair of different water and sewer infrastructure, including water mains, aqueducts, pumping stations, storage tanks, drains, sewers, and sewage treatment plants.

Companies and contractors also undertake maintenance work and are involved in compliance management. A combination of professionals, companies, and industry bodies ensure that water and wastewater services go uninterrupted.

The industry’s most common activities are municipal water main and sewer construction. Sewer and drain construction pipes are laid to carry human and industrial waste and stormwater. The industry is also responsible for managing infrastructure construction and its repairs and maintenance.

Ensuring uninterrupted water & sewer services

To ensure constant service for citizens, maintenance specialists must have access to detailed plans and maps of underground sewers, water mains, and water supply infrastructure.

When undertaking any construction or infrastructure project, professionals need to know the location of water and sewer line infrastructure to avoid accidental damage.

In Texas, it’s a legal requirement to call 811 and ensure that water, sewer, telecommunications, and gas pipelines are not affected during digging. Unfortunately, Texas811 is only able to provide a list of relevant utility owners, and not the location of the actual utilities which is what the project stakeholders need.

Water & sewer line construction in Texas — county-based data

In the US, the water & sewer line construction industry is predominantly concentrated in Texas, California, and Florida. According to a report published on Ibis World, the top three counties for the construction industry in Texas are Harris, Dallas, and Tarrant—also the most populated counties in the state.

However, water and sewer infrastructure across Texas is aging and in need of major repairs and replacements. As a result, industry activities are expected to move into other counties such as Bexar, Travis, Collin, Denton, and Hidalgo. Other heavily-populated counties such as Fort Bend, El Paso, and Montgomery may also see a burst of water line construction and repair activities.

Water infrastructure jurisdiction

Utility companies typically manage pumping stations, distribution mains, treatment plants, and tanks, while customers are responsible for in-house plumbing and sewer laterals that carry sewage to municipal sewer pipes.

According to The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 90% of Americans get their water from centralized utilities. The rest depend on private wells and other decentralized water supply facilities.

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that more than 20% of Americans depend on decentralized wastewater treatment systems and private septic tanks.

Many Americans, including Texans, depend on private infrastructure for both water supply and sewerage services. Utility companies may benefit from expanding their jurisdiction in these rural and remote communities. Utility coordination is an important service that helps various stakeholders cooperate and arrive at profitable and practical solutions for everyone involved.

Climate change and water infrastructure

The 2018 Camp Fire, which wreaked havoc on the town of Paradise, California, highlighted the growing effect of climate change on water and sewerage systems. Fires melted underground pipes, destroying existing infrastructure.

Texas needs to be more prepared for such events, and there is no protocol to follow in case water and sewer mains sustain damage due to flooding, fires, and other extreme weather events. It’s essential to build infrastructure that considers climate change—and ensure that what is built today will last for the next century or more.

Anticipating events such as floods, fires, and destructive storms requires modern technologies such as predictive analytics and an AI-enabled understanding of topography and geography. Advanced utility risk mitigation strategies can help create water and sewer infrastructure that’s future-proof, even in an era of climate change.

Funding water and sewer infrastructure projects

The Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) is responsible for providing affordable water and wastewater services to Texans. It offers water planning, financial and technical assistance, and data collection and dissemination. To ensure that Texans get adequate support to access clean water and sewer management, the TWDB funds several projects. Some of the TWDB’s funding sources are:

  1. Clean Water State Revolving Fund (CWSRF) — Offers loans for sewerage-related projects
  2. Drinking Water State Revolving Fund (DWSRF) — Loans for drinking water-related projects, especially for disadvantaged communities
  3. Texas Water Development Fund (TWDF) — Loans for several types of projects ranging from water quality enhancement to municipal solid waste treatment
  4. Economically Distressed Areas Program (EDAP) — Grants for wastewater and regular water infrastructure services in economically distressed areas
  5. Rural Water Assistance Fund (RWAF) — Low-cost financing for both wastewater and water projects in rural communities
  6. State Participation Program (SPP) — Allows the TWDB to become a temporary owner in a regional project
  7. State Water Implementation Fund for Texas (SWIFT) — Flexible loans for a variety of water and sewerage-related projects

This contact list helps you find the right points of contact if you’re looking for the TWDB’s financial assistance programs by region in Texas.

Another organization, the Texas Water Infrastructure Coordination Committee (TWICC), identifies compliance issues around water and wastewater infrastructure—and helps develop solutions and create affordable funding strategies for different projects. It consists of federal and state funding agencies and various industry-oriented bodies such as water and wastewater trade organizations, assistance providers, and regulatory bodies.

Texas water infrastructure needs immediate attention

Water and sewerage infrastructure in Texas is suffering, and the crisis is endangering several communities across the state. The American Society of Civil Engineers' (ASCE) 2021 report card rates Texas's drinking water infrastructure a C minus. The same guild rates the state's wastewater infrastructure with a dismal D. From loss in water levels to old and deteriorated infrastructure and dangerous lead pipes, the problems are many and urgent.

Get the approvals and funding for your projects quickly.

In the face of Texas’s need, there are several opportunities for profitable infrastructure projects. Although multiple funding options exist, they can be difficult to get approved. The following steps can help you proceed with water and sewerage infrastructure projects:

  • Presenting a plan of action that demonstrates access to existing utility data and mapping
  • Ability to implement utility coordination and minimize conflicts
  • A proven strategy to mitigate utility risks, including those associated with climate change

Utilizing the latest technology—such as utility mapping—can help you plan projects, gain approvals, and repair or replace infrastructure more quickly.  

Tamar Shafrir

A dedicated researcher that doesn’t stop investigating until she reaches the truth, no matter how hard it is to accept or comprehend (and there are a lot of those in our industry). Tamar took her first career steps in architecture and design, both as a practitioner and a journalist. Throughout her journey, her curiosity has taken her all across the globe, from North America through Europe to the Middle East, discovering and explaining the micro and macro challenges of the industry. Today she focuses most of her efforts on unlocking the challenges of the subsurface, through research and education. If you’re not following her on LinkedIn yet - you should.