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A Decade from Planning to Pouring: Water Supply Stewardship Beyond the Drought

Written by Keeley Kirksey, P.E. and Rachel Ickert, P.E.


Although drought conditions across most of Texas have improved since October of 2011, the June 19 U.S. Drought Monitor indicates that only 10 percent of the state is drought-free. This spring, reservoir levels increased significantly in many areas of the state, which has caused some Texans to resort back to a state of apathy in the hydro-illogic cycle (discussed in the April 27th DroughtSense article).  However, water suppliers know they need to continue seriously assessing long-term water supplies because some water supply projects can take more than 10 years to implement. The implementation of these projects includes planning, environmental permitting, design, and construction phases, and the timeline can vary greatly by project type (i.e. pipeline, reservoir, wetland, etc.). Implementation time for large water supply projects (supplying 50 MGD or more) is discussed below by project phase. The general timelines provided are based on a compilation of information from recently completed projects.


The planning phase for water supply projects includes an analysis of the amount of water needed, means of transporting the water, and the availability and reliability of a supply.  It can also include an evaluation of existing water supplies and the need for new or amended water supplies.  For pipeline, reservoir, and wetland projects, the planning phase typically takes between six months and two years.


The permitting phase varies greatly depending on the project type and type of permits that are required.  Permitting for wetland projects can take between two and three years, and permitting for pipelines may take up to two years.  Permitting for reservoir projects can take eight years or more.


The design for large water supply projects generally takes between one and three years.


Construction of pipeline and wetland projects typically takes two years.  Reservoir construction generally takes two to three years, not including reservoir filling.

Figure 1 displays the typical timelines by phase for reservoir, pipeline, and wetland projects.

Other Things to Consider

The timeframes provided above are for “typical” water supply projects and can vary greatly with the size and location of the project.  Note that the timeline for pipeline projects is a function of the pipeline length, diameter, and whether the pipeline is constructed in a rural or urban area.

Fast-Tracking Projects

While the implementation of large water supply projects is usually a long process, Freese and Nichols has recently been retained to complete fast-track projects to get badly needed water supplies where they need to be.  In recent years, Freese and Nichols has completed three pipeline projects in 38 months or less.  While fast-tracking these types of projects is not ideal, it is sometimes a matter of necessity.  Two of the three fast-track projects were due to drought conditions; the third was due to invasive species hindering an existing water supply.  Click here for additional information on fast-track projects: Drought Response: How to Accelerate Design and Construction for Large Water Supply Projects

Figure 2 displays the typical timeline for fast-tracked pipeline projects.


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Tagswater transmission, water supply, fast-track project, environment, Drought Response,