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Water Loss and Damage Prevention
Based on data provided to the Texas Water Development Board and the Texas Council for Environmental Quality, Texas water systems are losing a combined 572,000 acre-feet of treated potable water per year. This is approximately equal to the water consumption of Austin, Fort Worth, El Paso, Laredo, and Lubbock—enough water for 3 million Texans (10% of
our population). As we work to close the gap between our water needs and water supplies, it is unfathomable that so much water is lost, especially as drought-related water conservation measures and restrictions are becoming increasingly frequent.
As water facilities increasingly focus
on asset management, and as the State dedicates additional resources to shore up our infrastructure, we must look to the 811 system as an affirmative way to protect and avoid unnecessary damage to underground water infrastructure facilities. Most water loss incidents due to excavation damage are preventable if you are in the 811 system.
In 2018, the Water Conservation Advisory Council (WCAC), a legislative entity created under the Texas Water Development Board consisting of expert stakeholders in water conservation, adopted new best practices related
to excavation damage prevention.
These practices were developed at the urging of Texas811 under a consensus process by WCAC stakeholders and were formally approved by the Texas Water Development Board. Specifically, participation in the 811 system and damage prevention measures were identified as an affirmative way to avoid water loss and conservation.
The following language is included
in the Municipal Water Conservation Best Management Practices (Section
4.2 Utility Water Audit & Water
Loss) which states, “Real losses can
be reduced through more efficient leakage management; improved response time to repair leaks; improved pressure management and level control; improved system maintenance, replacement, and rehabilitation; and avoiding second- and third-party excavation damage.”
It further states, “Potential elements of an active water loss program include (i) implementing a program to facilitate
the location and marking of system distribution lines for contractors
in the utility service area to reduce damage to system infrastructure during excavation and construction activities.”, and “Detection and marking of system distribution lines can be accomplished through a focused utility program such as an on-line location request tool
with GIS capability.” Another option is participating in an existing location request program such as the 811 “Call before you dig” or “One Call” utility notification center. Either option will require utility follow-up to field locate utility lines for contractors.
Let’s be clear: There is no better option or more comprehensive tool to ensure damage prevention than the Texas811 system. The 811 system streamlines notifications and notifies all facility owners of excavation activities. Unless they are in the system, water utilities do not receive the benefits of notifications for other types of construction and excavation activities that could potentially compromise the integrity of their systems. This is a glaring gap in underground damage prevention.
What we have seen in the years since this best management practice was approved by the WCAC is almost
500 water utilities, from large and small municipal water utilities to
large regional water suppliers, private water suppliers, and utility districts, have voluntarily opted into the
Texas811 system protecting the water infrastructure of millions of Texans. This is a positive upward trend which should continue. Unfortunately, we have a lot of work to do to protect water facilities. There are estimated to be
over 6,000 water utilities in Texas – that means only 8.3% of water utilities enjoy the protection of the 811 system, which leaves room for a great deal of improvement.
Promoting Awareness
The damage prevention community has done a tremendous job educating contractors, excavators, homeowners, and the public about the importance of the 811 system. Outreach campaigns, public service announcements,
and collaboration with industry associations have raised awareness about safe excavation practices and the necessity of utilizing the 811 system.
By disseminating information through
various channels, such as social media, websites, and community events, individuals and organizations can be encouraged to use the system. As a damage prevention community, we will all benefit by including our critical water systems in the culture of Texas damage prevention.
We have a unique opportunity to leverage technology and further enhance the effectiveness of one call by integrating water systems into the 811 system with the innovative tools that already exist, like digital mapping systems, real-time notifications,
and mobile applications that can streamline the process, making it more convenient for excavators to submit location requests and receive timely responses from water facility operators. These technological tools can provide excavators with accurate and up-to-date information on the location of water infrastructure, ensuring that they can safely plan their activities accordingly to avoid damages and costly unnecessary delays.
Recent Policy Developments with Potential Implications for Class B Facilities
In November, Texas voters wisely approved two Constitutional Amendments that will significantly impact new and existing underground infrastructure in Texas. Specifically, Propositions 6 & 8 are poised to
provide historical funding for water infrastructure and fuel the proliferation of broadband across Texas. The result of these propositions means that we
can anticipate a sustained level of significant activity underground in water and broadband infrastructure sectors in the magnitude of billions of dollars of construction activity. Much of this funding will be directed to shoring up leaking water pipes and systems with an emphasis on small rural and underserved communities. This can be a unique opportunity or perfect storm for damages because the one call system does not protect Class B facilities.
There have been multiple attempts to bring Class B facilities into the mix of Texas damage prevention law over the last decade. Why haven’t these laws succeeded? The most obvious reason is the uncertainty of the legislative process. Priorities ebb and
2024, Issue 1 Texas811 • 9

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