Preparedness & Recovery

Thousands Still Await Clean Water After Harvey

Thirteen boil-water notices remain in effect across Harvey's affected areas, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality reported Friday.

by Morgan Gstalter, The Beaumont Enterprise, Texas / December 4, 2017
AP/Charlie Riedel

(TNS) — More than three months after Tropical Storm Harvey overflowed drainage districts, cut off water and prompted hundreds of boil-water notices across the Gulf Coast, access to safe water still seems a pipe dream for some.

Thirteen boil-water notices remain in effect across Harvey's affected areas, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) reported Friday.

Seven counties, including Orange, Newton, Matagorda, Liberty, Jim Wells, Harris and Angelina, are struggling to bounce back after Harvey's 50-plus inches swamped water systems, subdivisions and mobile home parks across southeast Texas.

About 3,750 people in Harvey's affected areas haven't had clean drinking water since late August, according to the TCEQ.

More than 2,200 community water systems were compromised during Harvey. Two in Harris County have been deemed inoperative or destroyed. Of 1,743 wastewater facilities affected, three in Harris County still aren't operational, according to the TCEQ.

Janice Ratcliff, Rose City's water operator, said their boil notice hasn't been lifted because the plant hasn't met TCEQ standards for pH levels and other chemicals.

Running water was returned to the city's 600 residents on Sept. 28, but it still requires a two-minute rolling boil before it's safe to consume.

"It's been so touch-and-go," Ratcliff said. "It will run good for two weeks but then something will happen. It just makes no sense to remove the notice just to have to go right back on it."

The original goal was to have the order rescinded by Thanksgiving, but red tape and insurance issues have pushed back the installation of necessary equipment, Ratcliff said.

"It's crazy what they put us through," Ratcliff said. "It's just been delay after delay. We understand that insurance companies and FEMA were so overloaded, but a water facility should come first."

The plant has been operating manually, meaning Ratcliff and co-operator Angela Beenen have to do everything by hand.

"The electronic equipment can tell us immediately when there is a problem," Ratcliff said. "So it takes us longer to diagnose a problem, especially when we have to wait a few hours to do all the testing. ... It's just not nearly as accurate."

Testing of water samples used to be done in their lab, which had to be condemned. For now, they have been working out of a temporary wood building with no heat or air conditioning, unstable electricity and none of their equipment.

Rose City's hall, which also flooded, has been serving as a central distribution site.

Faith-based organizations have made sure Rose City is never without enough bottled water, and one Louisiana church brought turkeys for Thanksgiving, Mayor Bonnie Stephenson said.

"We've barely had any complaints from residents," Stephenson said of the recovery process. "They know that they're working as hard as they can to fix it. Nobody has gotten real mad yet."

Ratcliff agreed, saying she's grateful residents are still being gracious about the situation.

Stephenson's own home was one of the 268 structures destroyed in the flood. Living under the boil-water notice has not made life any more difficult, she said.

"My whole life has changed," Stephenson said. "Nothing is the same, it's like day and night. So it hasn't really bothered me personally."

MGstalter@BeaumontEnterprise.com

Twitter.com/morgGstalt

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