HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- As Houston grows, we got an up-close look at a plant where drinking water is created and what's being done to adapt to a growing population and severe weather events.
SOUTHEAST HOUSTON IS HOME TO ONE OF THE LARGEST WATER PURIFICATION PLANTS IN THE COUNTRY
Ken Brown is part of the team that leads the Southeast Water Purification Plant, serving as a deputy assistant director whose passion is high-quality H2O.
"We make the best water in the country," Brown said. "In quality and in compliance and in everything else."
To learn how it happens, Brown gave us a tour, from the tanks that clean the water to the machines making sure the process works.
If you live on the city's southeast side, or in a neighboring community, this is most likely where your water comes from. It's collected from a river 13 miles away and pumped to this facility. In eight hours, it can be in your faucet.
"We don't just try to be safe," Brown said. "We don't just try to meet those goals. We try to exceed the goals and be efficient at the same time."
KEEPING WATER SAFE ISN'T ONLY ABOUT REMOVING BACTERIA, BUGS, AND OTHER ITEMS FROM THE LIQUID
To keep the water safe, it's about more than inspecting water. There's security around the facility, and even more eyes watching the facility's digital footprint.
"We can't plug USBs into computers," Brown explained. "There are certain things you just can't do in a drinking water plant."
Brown said cyber security is a big part of what's done to keep the supply safe.
"Security is really important," Brown explained. "Cybersecurity is really important. We do exercises to make sure that we're following those protocols, and they constantly update the protocols as things change."
HOUSTON PUBLIC WORKS CURRENTLY OPERATES THE FACILITY, BUT COULD SOON CHANGE
The facility can produce 200 million gallons of water a day. It's operated by the city of Houston, but it could change.
Since so many communities, including Friendswood, Pearland, and the Johnson Space Center, rely on the water, they can impact who runs the facility. Recently, the city's partners approved a process to possibly privatize operations.
We wanted to know how the bidding process could impact operations. "We can't share an opinion," Brown said. "We just have to continue day-to-day to be that staff. The things that happen there, privatize, non-privatize and things like that, us doing what we do every day is showing the city is capable if the privatization conversation comes up."
What Brown can control right now is overseeing the operations at a facility and making sure the drinking water is safe. "We want them to know we're taking care of the public's trust and health by making sure the water is right where it needs to be," Brown explained.
COUNTY COULD ADD ANOTHER MILLION PEOPLE BY 2050, WHICH IS WHY WE ASKED HOW THE PLANT WILL KEEP UP WITH DEMAND
Right now, about 4.5 million people live in Harris County. Public Works said by 2050, the number could climb to 5.5 million. Knowing this, we asked what was being done to keep up with demand at the water purification plant.
"We're doing 100 million gallons a day at a 200 million gallons a day plant," Brown explained. "We're positioned in a really good place. Some of our partners are starting to ask for more water. Once we reach a certain percentage, we try to get more of our water in, and then we expand the plant."
Adapting isn't only about population. The weather is changing too and putting strains on the system.
"We never got a chance to check to see how we would do in a major freeze, like an unprecedented freeze," Brown said. "We saw. Now we know. We've taken steps to mitigate that from happening."
This is growth that public works believe will keep your water flowing and handle major weather events.
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