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“Nobody anticipated the failure of services”
The city of Cotulla joined the ranks of many other local governments in South Texas on Thursday, February 18, to issue an order that all drinking water be boiled before consumption.
The order was lifted at 10 a.m. Tuesday, Feb. 23, when water samples were laboratory tested and found to contain no hazardous contaminants, according to City Hall in a brief statement.
As of presstime, many regional municipalities remain under a ‘boil water’ order aimed at preventing the inadvertent consumption of water that may have been contaminated during power failures last week.
Pearsall’s own order was issued Thursday, Feb. 11. Cotulla followed suit the same day. at Pearsall City Hall, staff expected the order to stand until at least Friday, Feb. 26, Pearsall having extended its order this week.
Cotulla’s recommendation was made by Mayor Javier Garcia in a prepared statement that acknowledged the severe effects of last week’s winter storm on the city’s utility services.
An apparent failure by electric providers to maintain power to municipal systems led to outages at a number of utility services on Sunday and Monday last week, among them municipal water pumping stations, and the resulting pressure drop to below 20 pounds per square inch triggered an alert by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ).
Municipalities were notified by the state authority that they should advise water service customers to boil water prior to consumption.
“To ensure destruction of all harmful bacteria and other microbes, water for drinking, cooking, and making ice should be boiled and cooled before use,” the city order stated, duplicating the wording used by other local governments. “The water should be brought to a vigorous, rolling boil and then boiled for two minutes.”
“This storm was predicted,” the Cotulla mayor said of the three-day weather system that sent temperatures below freezing and left roads blanketed in snow and ice. “Nobody anticipated the failure of services as we all experienced.
“Electricity powers all of our water wells and lift stations, so when the electricity went out, it crippled our water system,” the mayor said. “Our water department worked endlessly to restore water to the whole town, and it was not easy, as they had to find alternate options due to the lack of electricity.”
The weather system known as Winter Storm Uri moved across South Texas on the evening of Valentine’s Day Sunday, February 14, and brought with it a snow blanket deeper than La Salle County had seen in more than a decade. By Monday, many homes and businesses had begun experiencing water service failure due to frozen pipes having broken.
Electricity services in most communities failed at the same time, as statewide supplies were short of expectations and a lack of adequate winterization at regional plants likewise resulted in shutdowns.
Cotulla water department crews installed a fuel-powered generator at one of the city wells Wednesday, enabling water to flow to homes and businesses whose supply lines were still intact.
“It left our water department scrambling to find leaks that were caused by the frigid temperatures,” the mayor said. “All of our departments were out working alongside each other in an effort to help in any way they could.”
Gas utility service was restored to many homes, the mayor said, when the need for alternate-power heating became urgent. Meanwhile, garbage collection continued and street crews closed any roads that had become impassable because of ice buildup.
Mayor Garcia said he believes the community owes a debt of gratitude to those municipal employees whose efforts helped mitigate the most serious effects of Winter Storm Uri and the second freezing front that followed it, Winter Storm Viola.
“I would like to commend our city workers for all of their hard work during these difficult times,” the mayor said. “As many things were still out of our control, I hope that our crews know that their hard work did not go unrecognized.”
Orders recommending that water be boiled remain in place at other cities until local governments issue official statements to end them.