Ready, set, SWIFT: Time for water utilities to save

Photo by Djakhangir Zakhidov

Nobody needs to tell Texans how important water is. We are blessed with sparkling rivers and bubbling springs that refresh us during long summers and provide for our essential water needs throughout the year. Our water supply is not endless, however, and with our booming population, it’s important that we plan well and use water efficiently to ensure that there will be plenty to go around now and in the future.

Fortunately, water conservation is a big deal in the 2017 State Water Plan. Municipal conservation and reuse will account for over 40 percent of the new water supplies that will help meet our water needs through 2070.

There are many ways that communities can use water more efficiently and waste less of it. These strategies include repairing or replacing leaky infrastructure and installing meters that transmit real-time data so utilities can share information with consumers to help them track down problems. 

These programs cost money to implement, but they pay for themselves in the long run and are usually cheaper than finding new water supplies. The Texas Water Development Board’s State Water Implementation Fund for Texas, or SWIFT, can save money for you and your water utility. SWIFT includes two funds, the State Water Implementation Fund for Texas and the State Water Implementation Revenue Fund for Texas. The reduced interest rates and flexible financing options such as deferred loans, board participation and multi-year commitments available through SWIFT are terrific incentives for the type of infrastructure projects that utilities should be investing in.

Given the significant role that municipal conservation plays in the state’s water future, the legislation that created SWIFT set specific funding targets that include a 20 percent goal of funds allocated for water conservation and reuse projects and a 10 percent goal of funds allocated for projects benefitting rural communities or agricultural water conservation.

When it comes to cutting water use, utilities have an important leadership role. Here are a few examples of the savings achieved by cities across Texas that have been awarded low-interest SWIFT loans by the Texas Water Development Board:

  • The City of Bedford anticipates saving $11 million on a $90 million loan for water system and water meter improvements.
  • The City of Keller anticipates saving $1.7 million on a $12 million loan to reduce water loss.
  • The City of Fort Worth reports a savings of $4.6 million on a $63 million loan for an advanced metering infrastructure system.

The application period for the fourth cycle of SWIFT funding opened on December 8 and closes on February 2. Water utilities submit preliminary applications during this time, and if the projects are selected for further development, they are invited to submit full applications later next year. 

SWIFT operates hand-in-hand with the regional water planning process, and to be eligible for SWIFT assistance, projects must be recommended in the 2017 State Water Plan. Utilities are encouraged to participate in the planning process to ensure that their projects are included in these plans.

We need to do everything possible to plan for and manage water supplies effectively; keeping costs reasonable for water users in Texas should be on every utility’s agenda. SWIFT is a great tool to do just that. It allows water utilities to go big on water conservation while keeping costs down.

Kathleen Jackson

Member, Texas Water Development Board

Jennifer Walker

Senior program manager, National Wildlife Federation