Planning to Grow

Water conservation and a regularly updated master plan help a Texas military town keep up with growth and deliver efficient, high-quality service

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While other areas are struggling in a down economy, the City of Killeen, Texas, has seen record economic growth, border expansion and a population boom.


All this growth has put Killeen’s water and wastewater infrastructure to the test. To meet growing demand, the city has implemented two key plans — a four-stage Water Conservation Plan and a Water and Wastewater Master Plan — that map out present and future actions.


As part of the master plan, items like meter replacements, new flushing devices and techniques, new storage facilities and upsizing of existing water lines are helping keep the city on track and ahead of demand from the thriving community.


Keeping pace

A lot has changed in Killeen since its inception more than 100 years ago as a small railroad town. In 1941, the U.S. Army established a training site there, Camp Hood, to prepare soldiers for war. Today, Fort Hood is one of the largest military installations in the world, home to 50,000 soldiers and their families.


Because of its low cost of living, many retiring military personnel choose to stay in Killeen. Fort Hood offers these families a strong base of support, and many new businesses have sprung up to serve them. In addition, firms that do business with the military have located in the area to draw on the experience of retired officers and senior enlisted people. In the last 20 years, Killeen has grown from 63,000 residents to nearly 120,000.


The city maintains some 524 miles of sanitary sewer collection mains and 581 miles of water distribution mains, as well as eight in-ground water storage tanks holding 25.1 million gallons and six elevated storage tanks holding 7.25 million gallons. Water conservation and the master plan are critical to maintaining the city’s ability to deliver water.

Killeen’s Water Conservation Plan is in keeping with mandates of the Texas Water Development Board, requiring all municipalities to have a plan geared toward demand-based triggers. “The plan is very formulaic, based on guidelines established by the Water Board,” explains John Nett, city engineer. “We’ve established four stages, triggered or escalated by usage during our peak points from May through September. These determine how our residents can use water resources during those time frames.”


Killeen is now at Stage 1: Voluntary Conservation, which encourages residents to limit water usage to what is essential for health, business, normal irrigation and reasonable recreation. Stage 2: Mandatory Water Use, primarily controls the time of outdoor irrigation and prohibits use of water for activities like charity car washes, ornamental fountains and washing of impervious surfaces.


Stage 3: Emergency Water Use, encompasses all Stage 1 and 2 controls but adds scheduled water use days for irrigation, prohibits new landscaping installations and sets pool maintenance levels. Stage 4 escalates to no irrigation of any kind that uses permanently instal-led irrigation systems or hose-end or drip-style units.


Course for the future

The more critical component is the master plan, which charts out the city’s sewer- and water-related operations, expansion, maintenance and rehabilitation. Established in 1997, the plan has been revised every three years and is due for another update.


“We plan on updating and improving some of our pump stations and adding transmission mains as part of the latest plan version,” says Nett. “We will ultimately change points of potable water delivery with the addition of more storage tanks and other facilities to deal with the radical shift in need we’ve seen in the last two years. As we see the city expand more and more to the south, we have to push water much further than ever before. Major updates are needed in order to accomplish that transmission efficiently.”

For instance, pump stations are huge users of energy. “By increasing the capability of our pump stations to move that water directly to the tanks and transmission lines in the new areas, we create a tremendous reduction in electrical, maintenance and repair costs on the pumps, as well as repairs on valves on the mains and dealing with line breaks,” says Mike Meadows, project engineer, water and sewer.


“You need to use your pump stations to their maximum beneficial capacity. The same goes for your lines. We had one station that had plenty of capacity, but the lines coming out of it were not adequate in size to handle what it could produce. All these new initiatives in our master plan — new mains and transmission lines, and connectivity to more pump stations — have helped us move water much more efficiently throughout the entire city, not just the new areas.”


Little steps, big gains

Capital improvements help keep supply and demand in balance, but other changes help over the long haul, as well. A case in point: improving meter capabilities to reduce water losses.


Killeen is gradually replacing its water utility customers’ meters systemwide. Instead of traditional analog meters, the new or replacement meters can be converted to radio read. This means:

• Less manpower to manually open valve boxes, take readings and enter data to the billing system.

• Real-time reading on demand.

• Energy savings because fewer vehicles are deployed to take readings.

• Greater billing accuracy.

• The ability to monitor accounts more frequently.


Two types of radio meters are being considered: a drive-by style and a system that transmits data to a receiver or accumulator. Either way, the information will be beamed back to the billing department.


“The good thing about these radio systems is the ability to see what’s happening in real time in the system,” says Jim Butler, executive director of Public Works. “For instance, if someone has a leak in their house, perhaps while they are on vacation, we would be flagged that an unusually high amount of water is being used at that location. We can then send crews out to investigate and resolve any potential problems quickly, or rule them out, because perhaps the owner is filling a swimming pool or doing a major landscaping project.”


The first conversions are planned for the larger customers. The city expects to start installation of the radio-read meters within the next year to 18 months. Being able to track water is key to reducing losses, improving service and keeping costs down. The new meter program will also help the city compare how much water it purchases from its regional provider with the amount actually sold.


New flow meters are also being installed at pump stations to track how much water is being pumped through the system. “Each pump station services a particular area, which will have a typical established demand level,” says Steve Kana, project manager, water and sewer.


“Once we know how much water we’re actually pumping into an area, we’ll be able to compare water use records and pinpoint areas where we may have more water going out than what we’re accounting for.” Armed with that information, the city can deploy leak detection sounding devices or take other investigative measures.


Another big water saver has been automated flushing technology. Traditional hydrant flushing uses up to 15,000 gallons of water per event. With more than 6,000 hydrants, the city can’t install the automatic devices (Kupferle Foundry) on every unit. But by installing them in key positions where frequent flushing has been required to maintain good water quality, the city is seeing large savings. The automatic devices require just 500 gallons of water per cycle.


Timing is everything

Killeen is also using the new meters to gather data to analyze the performance of its systems. Gathering data is especially critical during high-use months. “We want to get our high-use months in, especially because that’s when you get some of the better data,” says Richard Macchi, assistant director of Public Works. “A lot of meters are more accurate when there is greater flow through them. If you go through low-use months, you tend to have a loss of accuracy.”


With new meters scheduled for installation before the peak period is in full swing, data collection during July through October of 2010 will provide with a good baseline. The city will also take pressure readings to monitor pump efficiency and usage and stay ahead of pump station maintenance issues.


“Our annual reporting to the Texas Water Development Board requires targets on water loss reduction, and that’s why we’re working really hard on the universal metering and meter replacement aspects of our plan,” says Butler. “Having accurate data makes the job of deciding where to place our efforts and budget easier and clearer.”


Always fluid

As Killeen has seen firsthand, the only thing that remains the same is change. As the targets and objectives shift, the master plan does, too. All its initiatives to date, big and small, have helped the city deliver supply in line with constantly growing demand.


Still, city staff members know they can’t stop looking for ways to keep providing better service and creating a healthy, sustainable system. Rapid growth presents special challenges, but also good lessons for managing an evolving system: a fluid approach works best.


Butler sums it up simply, “Your Water and Wastewater Master Plan has to be a living document. We don’t put infrastructure in the ground before it is needed. That is a waste of money and creates additional unnecessary operational issues. Adopting a just-in-time delivery model has served us well to date, and we expect it will continue to do so as our community follows its anticipated future growth pattern.”


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