by Jeffrey L. McIntyre, president of Texas Utilities at SouthWest Water Company
The process of turning groundwater and surface water into safe water for your home is complex and goes largely unseen. Unlike electricity, which you can see coming to your home through power lines, and natural gas, which can have a distinctive smell, water is processed and delivered out of sight and typically underground.
It is only natural to think of water like the air we breathe. After all, water rains down from the sky and fills the waterways and lakes near our homes. How hard can it be to treat, store and pipe water into our homes and businesses? What you may not know is that water and wastewater are the most expensive utilities to build and maintain. There are dozens of processes all water must undergo to be safe for your consumption. The hundreds of water lines in your neighborhood alone require intensive maintenance and—eventually—replacement to function as you expect.
When a company like ours assumes control of a service area, the underlying infrastructure (the basic physical structures and facilities needed for operation) is often in disrepair due to poor upkeep or simply being decades old. To give you a sense of how prevalent an issue this is in the state, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) rated Texas’ drinking water infrastructure a D+ and wastewater infrastructure a D. According to the ASCE 2017 Texas Infrastructure Report Card, “Texas’ infrastructure lacks funding, proper maintenance, and is poorly equipped to deal with environmental change as Texas continues to grow.” That is where we come in to invest in the future of your water sustainability.
Over the past four years alone, SouthWest Water Company has invested approximately $50 million on water and wastewater system upgrades across the state to serve our customers. That is in addition to the cost of employing hundreds of Texans, maintaining specialty equipment, renewing certifications, regulatory monitoring and testing, and conducting administrative work to stay safe and maintain compliance as a utility. And Texas is a big state with a lot of ground to cover and dirt to move.
But it is important for us all to remember, although we do not own the water, and neither do you, we are all responsible for it. As a full service utility, our job is to deliver safe and reliable water you can feel confident drinking and using, and providing environmentally friendly wastewater treatment. As Texans, we can each conserve water and pay special attention to what we are putting into our rivers and lakes. Together we can keep our community safe and hydrated.
When you think of what you pay each month to get a clean supply of water for drinking, appliances, bathing and cleaning, the cost of that service is certainly a consideration, but it is important to also think of the value. Water and wastewater utilities are essentially delivering water on demand and safely taking away the used water so you do not have to deal with it. Think of the packages and groceries that are delivered to your home, for example. You pay for that service each time you use it—and you have to wait.
I have spent my career working across North America in the water utility industry, and I can tell you this is essential work that is complex and difficult, and I could not be more proud of our employees. From engineers and operators in the field to our office teams, I cannot think of one person who is looking for recognition for this work. I can confidently say that each and every one of my colleagues acts with humility to provide this basic resource to our communities and does so with a commitment not only to safety but also to continually increasing value to our customers. The next time you turn on your sink, fill up the tub, flush a toilet, or sit back and watch the sprinklers water your yard, remember the journey that water has made to your home and back to the environment. It is our privilege to play a part in that journey, providing Texans with safe, reliable water that you can trust.