By John Barnes
As West U residents may be aware, the city of Houston (COH) lost power to its East Water Purification Plant at 10:30 a.m. on Sunday (Nov. 27). As a result, pressure in Houston’s main water system dropped below the required minimum of 20 pounds per square inch (PSI) mandated by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (the 20 PSI minimum is the state-determined pressure required to prevent contamination of potable water from outside sources). About nine hours later, COH issued a boil water notice, instructing residents to boil or use bottled water for drinking. The city of Bellaire followed suit, and HISD announced that its schools would remain closed Monday (Nov. 28).
In all, more than 2.2 million people were affected — all of Houston and Bellaire. So, where did that leave West U, a Houston customer? The answer is … pretty good, actually. Thanks to at least three decades of forward-thinking infrastructure investment, West U is only partially dependent on water supplied by COH, and West U is able to shut off those intakes and switch over entirely to locally sourced water from wells owned by and located within West U, as well as from storage tanks, in a crisis. Which is just what happened, not only on Sunday but also after a COH water main break that flooded parts of I-610 east in February 2020 and last year during Winter Storm Yuri.
Then as now, West U had the systems in place to enable it to “weather the storm” and isolate its drinking supply to avoid having to issue a boil water notice to its residents. In addition, profound praise should be given to West U’s city staff, who took swift action to switch off the city’s intakes from COH and began notifying residents within minutes of being made aware of the situation. I would strongly encourage residents to send kudos to our City Manager, Dave Beach (firstname.lastname@example.org) and our Public Works Director, Gerardo Barrera (email@example.com).
That is not to say that there aren’t issues that need to be resolved. As of this writing, West U residents on Law Street are not supplied with water by West U, but are instead on COH water, because the rights-of-way in front of their homes lie within COH, not West U. West U is, however, in the process of resolving this, and those residents should soon be able to enjoy the same confidence in their water supply as other West U residents do.
In keeping with its forward focus, West U is currently looking into ways to further improve its water resiliency. Potential changes could include upgrades to the pumps and distribution lines at West U’s Milton and Wakeforest plants to increase the pressure that we can generate independent of COH water, as well as the replacement of one or more existing storage tanks and the opening of an additional water well to expand overall system capacity. In all, the future of West U’s drinking water looks bright.
If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Barnes is serving his second term as a West University City Council member.