Solving Houston’s Water Challenges: AUC’s Comprehensive Approach

By February 26, 2024 No Comments
Downtown Houston, Texas, and Surrounding Greenery
Houston is spread over 600 square miles, making it difficult to respond with the traditional, centralized model for water services. That’s why AUC has embraced decentralized treatment, placing water infrastructure directly at the point of need and scaling it down to serve a limited service area.

Decentralization makes sense for a sprawling area of growth

In southeast Texas, Houston faces unique water challenges that require innovative solutions. AUC Group brings decades of expertise to address those needs with a comprehensive approach to water treatment and management.

Some 86% of Houston’s municipal drinking water comes from Lake Livingston, via the Trinity River, and from Lake Conroe and Lake Houston via the San Jacinto River. Wells that average 1,200 feet deep in the Evangeline and Chicot aquifers supply the other 14%. In 2021, the city’s sprawling, 7,000-mile pipeline system produced and distributed more than 172 billion gallons of water.

Houston Water provides water services in the Houston area with 1,500 water and wastewater engineers, scientists, operators, and maintenance personnel who serve 2.2 million residents. It has managed the pitfalls of hurricanes, droughts, and floods. It maintains a “superior” rating from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), the highest rating the agency awards.


Tailored Solutions for Houston

Space City’s water has some down-to-earth problems. The 2011 drought revealed the condition of the city’s rapidly aging water lines, which were built to last only 50 years and are reaching their expiration date. As coastal clay soils contract during droughts and rapidly expand during rainstorms, they contribute to damaging stresses on old pipes. The 2023 drought reinforced awareness with a regional spike in water main breaks. Houston lost more than 9 billion gallons of water to leaks between January and April 2023.

In the years since Hurricane Harvey, regulatory frameworks have struggled against red tape to keep up with the heightened flood risk to the city’s wastewater treatment infrastructure.

Along with this, Houston’s explosive growth brings more water demand. Between 2010 and 2030, Houston will welcome an expected 2.2 million new residents for a 37.68% population increase. Houston has helped drive Harris County to third in the nation for growth, at an expansion rate since 1990 that is twice the national average.

Houston is spread over 600 square miles, making it difficult to respond with the traditional, centralized model for water services. That’s why AUC has embraced decentralized treatment, placing water infrastructure directly at the point of need and scaling it down to serve a limited area.

Tailoring water infrastructure to individual settings brings numerous benefits. By decentralizing both water supply and wastewater treatment, a complete water cycle solution can help the community, institution, business, or industrial operation become water-independent. It saves on utility bills, shrinks carbon footprints, protects aquatic ecosystems, and achieves remarkable sustainability.


Installation Can Be Completed Quickly

If, for instance, a builder is ready to break ground on a new master-planned community but there is no water infrastructure nearby, they can simply buy or lease their own dedicated water or wastewater infrastructure from AUC, tailored specifically to their occupancy. There is no need to wait for the utility to get around to building long, costly, bureaucratically difficult pipelines to the site. Builders can build where and when they want.

If water demand is expected to climb over time, AUC customers can start small with enough capacity for the early stages of a project, reserving capital for subsequent stages. When more capacity is needed, it can be added in phases. This unprecedented flexibility comes from AUC’s fleet of modular units that can be trucked in and installed with little construction necessary, and removed efficiently should demands change.

AUC has even added a Phase 0 option that lowers sludge transportation costs when use is not high enough to allow wastewater treatment plants to operate efficiently. For example, when homes in a community are still on the market, students have left schools for vacation, resorts are on the off season, or another variable-demand situation, Phase 0 keeps operating costs to a minimum.

A comprehensive approach also means that everything inside the fence can be leased, and all leases have a purchase option.

AUC delivers pure drinking water systems based on advanced membrane technologies, such as reverse osmosis and ultrafiltration, along with multimedia filtration, so surface or groundwater is safe to drink and residents stay healthy. Treatment based on conventional or membrane bioreactor technology transforms wastewater into effluent that is ideal for nonpotable irrigation or beneficial release to sustain the surrounding ecosystem. Texas even has incentives in place for water reuse.


Environmental Impact, Resilience, and Sustainability

In a drought-prone and enormous city like Houston, water is an increasingly vital issue. It makes sense to be as water-efficient, independent, and resilient as possible. When centralized infrastructure goes offline from storm damage or flooding, it can take months for repair or replacement, but smaller, decentralized plants tend to restart almost as soon as the electricity goes back on.

No long pipelines mean less pumping and a lower carbon footprint, and tanker trucks dependent on fossil fuels are no longer needed. AUC systems deliver a boost to ESG profiles with those measures as well as environmentally beneficial effluent and water reuse.

AUC’s experience in the Houston area stretches back to 1970, making it the expert in the regulatory landscape. AUC provides traditional activated sludge treatment and the new membrane bioreactor projects that the TCEQ tends to fast-track to approval in a quarter of the time it takes for traditional ones.


Local Benefits and Community Impact

AUC can be a lifeline by ending cash-flow bottlenecks for communities and municipalities with its flexible Lease Plant Program, enabling access to water infrastructure without large upfront costs. It can ease the transition of septic-to-sewer in the event of groundwater contamination from septic systems. It can help when distant utilities can’t provide adequate service. It can bring vital infrastructure even when clients have little access to capital. And it can return effluent for reuse, which cost-effectively increases the usable water supply.

To explore the possibilities of decentralized treatment, contact the experts at AUC, who are always developing more comprehensive, adaptable, and sustainable strategies. The company’s half-century commitment to solving Houston’s water challenges keeps growing. Let AUC be part of your water future.