What’s Next for Water Emergency Preparedness Plans

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Jessica Brown

Water/Wastewater Planner

As Texas water utilities work to meet the March 1 deadline for submitting their emergency preparedness plans to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, they also must move quickly to implement those plans.

Under the law known as SB 3, water utilities face a deadline this year for putting in place their newly adopted/expanded emergency preparedness plans to keep their services operating during an extended power outage.

Since the requirements of SB 3 went into effect in June 2021, large utilities and other advocates have worked continuously with TCEQ to clarify compliance details and expectations. Ongoing discussions also have helped to refine understanding of the impact these adjustments will have on utilities. This detailed dialogue has benefitted the industry as we work across Texas to protect critical infrastructure for extreme weather emergencies.

What Water Utilities Need to Know

  • Review Period: Once emergency prepared plans and implementation timelines have been submitted, TCEQ has 90 days to review them; however, the review period may extend beyond 90 days. [Notices of Violation are expected to go out in late April to utilities that miss the March 1 deadline.]
  • Response Period: Utilities will have 30 days to respond to any TCEQ comments made in the plan reviews.
  • Implementation Inspections: Local TCEQ offices will incorporate a checklist for emergency preparedness into their regular utility inspection process.

Water utilities have multiple options for meeting the requirements of SB 3, including backup generators, alternate power sources, redundant interconnectivity between pressure zones and increased levels of storage, as well as options for water demand management strategies.

Your plan must demonstrate that your utility will maintain sufficient capacity for the system, including raw water intake pump stations, treatment plants, treated water pump stations and pressure facilities, to provide at least 20 psi during a power outage lasting beyond 24 hours.

Freese and Nichols has been working with multiple cities on developing their emergency response plans and implementation timelines.

These tips will help you with successful compliance:

  • If your timeline changes (because of supply delays, for instance), submit an updated timeline to TCEQ through the designated EPP email address and provide supporting documentation.
  • Communication with your wholesale customers is essential so they understand your backup plan and the level of service for which they should plan.
  • Expect guidance from the Public Utility Commission on critical load designations for water/wastewater utilities; for reference, the framework is expected to build off of the PUC guidelines for critical natural gas. Currently, the rulemaking for water/wastewater utilities is expected to start in early summer 2022.
  • It’s important to update your emergency preparedness plan as system changes occur, such as adding new facilities or decommissioning facilities. Designating a point person and process for updates will help you stay in compliance going forward.

How Freese and Nichols Can Help You

For 127 years, Freese and Nichols has been helping water utilities meet their customers’ needs, both long-term and in emergencies. From 14 offices across Texas, our experienced team is ready to provide full-service support to help you implement your plan. We are working with utilities large and small on their plans and have in-depth understanding of the requirements and how to meet them.

We bring multiple levels of expertise to this challenge:

  • Our water/wastewater planning staff can leverage their water system and modeling knowledge to provide you best value options. They also can tap our in-house electrical team in implementing your emergency preparedness plan.
  • Our staff have a demonstrated track record of meeting TCEQ deadlines for regulatory compliance.
  • Our funding experts can assist your utility in identifying potential funding sources for required improvements.

To learn more: Contact Jessica Brown at jessica.brown@freese.com or 817-735-7406, or your main Freese and Nichols contact.

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Jessica Brown is Freese and Nichols’ Water/Wastewater Planning Practice Leader, based in Fort Worth.