Knowing the Worth of Water

The City of Austin has had a long wait for more water. Since 1984, its citizens have anticipated construction of a new water treatment facility that would support its fast-growing population and carry it through the dry times that are so uncomfortably familiar to the central-Texas city. MWH helped to bring relief in the form of the Austin Water Treatment Plant completed in November 2014. Hired by the city to provide overall Construction Management-at-Risk (CMAR) services, MWH took on the Texas-sized challenge of coordinating the efforts of numerous subcontractors. Construction and regulatory considerations, daunting geological obstacles and even one celebrity salamander presented special challenges. In spite of these all, MWH delivered a quality project under budget. With its sophisticated technology and sustainable enhancements, the plant treats 50 million gallons of water per day, expandable to 300 million gallons per day. It will serve Austin’s commercial and residential water needs well into the future.

Scenic Austin, Texas – View from Lady Bird Lake.

When the City authorized the construction of a new $508 million water treatment plant in northwest Austin in 2009, expectations were high and so were the challenges. The site is located in an environmentally sensitive area with underground karst features that carry runnoff to Austin’s “crown jewel”, Barton Springs. The project also included tunneling under the Balcones Canyonlands Preserve, home to threatened and endangered species of birds and salamanders. MWH Constructors personnel worked to balance these complex needs as they created the advanced, new treatment plant. Raw water comes from Lake Travis, nearly a mile away, and now has the capability to supply 35 percent of the city’s water. It provides a reliable, continuous system and much needed backup service during periodic shutdowns and maintenance of the city’s two older treatment plants. The facility’s buildings are designed to achieve a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design LEED(R) Silver rating.

Close collaboration with the local community and all contractors was a significant factor in the project’s success. Designers aligned with the city’s environmental plan to protect local habitats and to minimize any impacts to sensitive areas. The main finished water tunnel, which connects the plant to the existing water distribution system, was routed away from habitat areas; fragile geological formations were treated with care.

While reviewing the design documents, MWH Constructors personnel recognized some constructability challenges with the design of the intake structure on Lake Travis and the hard, limestone formations. MWH worked with the design team to alter the design, thereby improving the construction efficiency and preventing potential problems. MWH also partnered successfully with local subcontractors and far exceeded the client’s goals for inclusion of minority and women-owned businesses. Together, we awarded contracts to local businesses totaling over $63 million during the first three years of the project.

With more than three million hours invested, MWH created a design that was cost effective, while still delivering long-term value, environmental stewardship and innovative water treatment. Best of all, we ensured the delivery of safe, reliable drinking water to the citizens of Austin.