Houston: At A Glance
The City of Houston’s score dropped from 62 in the 2016 scorecard to 57, primarily due to an increase in water loss from 11% to 17%, despite concerted efforts in recent years to address the City’s historically high rate of water loss. Houston did, however, incorporate two more best management practices into its water conservation program. The City has also made significant strides in reducing total water use from 144 GPCD in 2014 to 130 GPCD in 2019. The City’s 5-year and 10-year targets set forth in the 2019 WCP are far more modest though. The good news is that the City of Houston has many options to improve its water conservation and water loss control efforts.
Houston is the largest city in Texas with a population of over 2.3 million. The City provides retail water service to over 488,000 single-family, multi-family, and commercial, industrial, and institutional connections. The City is also the largest wholesale water provider in the region, supplying water to 274 contract customers such as municipal utility districts (MUDs), regional water authorities, industries, and other municipalities. The City of Houston draws its water supplies from several sources, including Lakes Houston, Conroe, and Livingston, the San Jacinto River, bayous, and groundwater pumping. Houston is in the Region H water planning area.
Since 2016, Houston’s conservation score has fluctuated but never improved and now in 2020 the City has scored 5 points less than it did in the 2016 scorecard. Houston regressed on water loss, reporting a 16.87% water loss in its most recent water audit, up from 10.9% just four years ago.
The 2016 scorecard noted that Houston historically has had a very high water loss rate in its distribution system. As reported in its 2014 WCP, for example, the historic five-year water loss experienced by Houston was 14 percent. However, the City of Houston had begun an active effort to curb this water loss – including acquiring state financial assistance to replace water lines. As of 2020 though, with a loss rate of 16.87%, further efforts are required for Houston to address this issue.
In terms of GPCD, Houston has historically had a moderate rate of per capita water use relative to other cities. This likely reflects in part Houston’s annual average rainfall of almost 50 inches, which reduces the need for outdoor watering. Over the past several years Houston has reduced its per capita water use, from 144 GPCD in 2013 to 129 as of 2019. This progress, however, may be due to the historically heavy rainfall incidents in Houston in 2015, 2016, and 2017, which no doubt depressed outdoor watering (one does not water their lawn when their house is flooded). Nevertheless, Houston’s 2024 water conservation target of 127 GPCD could be more ambitious, especially for a water utility that to date has not undertaken a comprehensive water conservation program.