Waco Mayor Dillon Meek pleaded with residents in a video Wednesday afternoon to cut back on water use to relieve an “unprecedented” strain on the city water system caused by power outages, leaks and hoarding caused by false rumors.
Meek asked water customers to conserve water for 48 hours to allow treatment and storage systems to recover, reducing the risk of a pressure loss that could threaten vulnerable residents and fire safety. Elsewhere in the area, smaller water systems unable to maintain adequate pressure issued boil orders for customers, and the city of Bellmead announced multiple simultaneous repairs Wednesday evening on its water system would force service interruptions to part of the town.
“We are not out of the woods,” Meek said of Waco’s water system Wednesday afternoon. “If power were cut off at either of our plants it would be a real challenge to keep our pressure up. Boil water notices will be likely if we lose power at one of these facilities or if more leaks occur.”
Such a notice could add to the hardship of people who have no electricity with which to boil water, he said.
Waco water customers need to hold off on running washing machines and dishwashers, and avoid hoarding water. They should report any leaks they see to the city at 299-2489.
Meek said the water system, which supplies water well beyond the city of Waco, faced a threefold challenge starting Tuesday.
First, the Riverside Treatment Plant lost power Tuesday, causing a shortfall of millions of gallons that would otherwise flow to water storage tanks.
Power was restored to the plant late Tuesday, but in the meantime, the Mount Carmel plant started to have “major systems malfunctions,” Meek said.
Then rumors started circulating online, similar to reports around the state, that the city was about to shut off its water system and that customers should reserve water.
The resulting hoarding, combined with leaks around the city, taxed the system, resulting in one of the city’s six pressure planes to experience six times its normal pressure.
Crews worked all night to manage the crisis and re-establish capacity, Meek said.
City Council Member Hector Sabido released a version of the video message in Spanish.
Even as that work continued, other water systems in the area saw pressure drop to the point of endangering water safety and requiring boiling before consumption, including the city of Riesel’s system and the Levi Water System, which serves customers in rural McLennan County east of Lorena and portions of Falls County.
The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality on Wednesday required the city of Riesel to issue a boil water notice for its residents because of low water pressure caused by waterline breaks and power interruptions.
The city did not lose total water service, but water pressure had been extremely low for the past 24 hours, City Secretary Alisha Flanary said Wednesday afternoon.
Riesel officials said that while the water pressure was increasing Wednesday afternoon, they are also asking residents to conserve water by refraining from laundry, using dishwashers or taking extended showers.
“Rolling blackouts caused the problem, along with several major waterline breaks in town around the same time,” Flanary said. “We just lost too much water too fast and we couldn’t produce enough water to catch back up.”
In a statement Wednesday evening, Bellmead announced water crews were working on nine major leaks. As a result of the leaks and diminished water stores, the city announced it would shut off water at 7 p.m. “for all residents West of Loop 340 and I-35” so repairs could be made overnight.
“We understand your frustration as many of our employees serving you also have no water and electricity in their homes,” according to the statement. “These employees are working under extremely hazardous conditions 24/7 with very little sleep. Please be patient with us while we work through fixing these pipes.”
In McGregor, city crews were fighting the elements to repair at least three broken waterlines, including a major line at South Main and Sixth streets.
The city had not issued a citywide boil water notice and was not expecting Wednesday afternoon that it would have to, but 10 homes have been put on a boil water notice, Mayor Jimmy Hering said. He said he was unaware of any residents or businesses whose water service has been interrupted, but said a number of homes remain without power now for a third day.
Power in downtown McGregor is “spotty,” and while much of downtown has power, a traffic light is out, Hering said.
The city gets its water from a well, the Bluebonnet Water Supply Corp. and from an agreement with the cities of Waco and Hewitt for Waco water, he said. All sources of water remain up and running, he said.
Warming stations have been set up at McGregor High School and at two churches. Hering said the warming station at the commons area at the high school was closed Tuesday night when no one came.
Levi boil notice
The TCEQ also has required the Levi Water System to issue a boil water notice for its customers.
The notice was issued because of low water pressure and requires customers to boil water before cooking, making ice or drinking.