13 Investigates finds Houston fixed 32% of active water leaks since February, but goal still far off

Chaz Miller Image
Friday, April 21, 2023
Age and changing climate to blame for pipe breaks across Houston
Every day, crews in the Houston area are battling hundreds of water leaks, spilling thousands of gallons of water. So what is causing this, and what is the city doing to help stop this?

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Bill King, a former mayoral candidate in the City of Houston, went outside his home on Christmas Day and noticed a broken water line along the curb of his house.

He said it gushed into the street for two solid weeks.

"It wasn't a surprise, and of course, that was right at the time of the freeze," King said. "Water lines were breaking all over town."

Houston is no stranger to water main leaks.

The video above is from a previous report: 'It's a lot:' There are hundreds of active water leaks in Houston, costing everyone money

There are smaller ones like the ones outside of King's home, bigger ones like the one at Westheimer and Eldridge last Friday, and massive ones like the one that flooded areas around the East Loop in February 2020.

"We do have a lot of water main leaks in the City of Houston, unfortunately," Mayor Sylvester Turner said at a city council meeting in February.

According to numbers from the City of Houston Public Works Department, there are more than 7,000 miles of underground pipes related to water in our city's more than 600 square miles.

With that many pipes, experts say there are going to be issues.

A report from our partners at the Houston Chronicle, showed the city lost nearly 20 billion gallons of water from January through August of last year.

RELATED: Up to $25M needed to fix Houston's aging water lines amid increase in main breaks, council says

They determined that equates to nearly a $75 million loss in potential revenue for the city.

"The infrastructure underground shifts, so when there's drought conditions, the ground will shift," Turner said. "Then, when we have these cold spells, the ground shifts again, and the infrastructure shifts."

There is also the age of some of those pipes.

"There are pipes in the ground that are probably 80 years old," said Wayne Klotz of the Coastal Water Authority, which sells water to the City of Houston. "That's not unusual."

Klotz said the issue of water main breaks isn't exclusive to our area and added that the shape of our water infrastructure is similar to that of every other major city in the United States.

"They expect to have water leaks all the time," Klotz said of metropolitan areas.

He went on to say the main issue for cities is deciding how much money they want to spend on addressing the problem, which he told ABC13 is "expensive."

For example, Houston City Council has recently approved more than $28 million to hire outside crews to assist in fixing leaks in the coming years.

Those crews are in addition to the ones already employed by the city's public works department.

"We're paying quite a bit to these outside contractors, along with our internal crews, to bring those numbers down," Turner said.

The city council also passed a multiyear water-rate increase, part of which is intended to go towards fixing leaks.

ABC13 met with Michael Johnson, an assistant public director in the city's public works department, in late February.

When that interview occurred, he told us there were more than 500 active leaks in the city.

SEE ALSO: Katy-based company at center of HPD investigation bids to run City of Houston drinking water plant

In the nearly two months since the interview, we've learned that number has gone down to 339, but that's still much higher than their goal of 50 or fewer, according to Johnson.

He's optimistic they'll eventually reach their goal.

"It's manageable because a few months ago, we were close to 1,000," he said on Feb. 22. "Give us a few months, and we'll hopefully get to 50."

The number of active leaks in the city can change on a day-by-day basis, but Klotz said it is vital for any city to get water to its citizens.

"The one thing that cities provide that's essential for your life is water," he emphasized.

The City of Houston recommends that Houstonians report any suspected leak to 311, which is where you can report problems, as well as request service for a variety of city-based issues.

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