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

Wednesday, November 30, 2022
Up to $25M needed to fix Houston's aging water lines, council says
"We were being overwhelmed." Water main breaks are happening more and more often, city councilmembers said. They believe it's a direct result of serious drought.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- During a Houston City Council meeting on Wednesday, Mayor Sylvester Turner said the city is being overwhelmed by water main breaks.

Councilmembers want to spend between $22 million and $25 million on emergency repair parts and labor for the water lines -- which appear to be a growing problem.

Water main breaks are happening more and more often, city officials said. It's a direct result of serious drought, Councilmember Abbie Kamin pointed out.

For some neighborhoods, it's been really bad. There's a neighborhood in Houston where people have been waiting almost three weeks for a water main to be fixed, Kamin said.

When a main breaks, it means low water pressure -- or worse, no water -- for residents who are impacted. Kamin explained that if we're seeing more and more main breaks, it's because of aging valves. Now, councilmembers want money to repair and replace them.

The question is -- why weren't we prepared for this?

Mayor Turner pointed out that the city usually sees about 400 water main breaks on an average day, and this past summer, that number shot to 1,100 breaks in one day.

"We were being overwhelmed," Turner said.

"The infrastructure underneath our grounds is aging. As it gets hotter, things start shifting, things start breaking. As best as possible, I think it's important to get in ahead of time. What that means is it will create inconvenience when you go in and replace that infrastructure." Turner said. "We need to assess what's the best infrastructure to put in place to mitigate future main leaks."

On Wednesday morning alone, there were 632 active leaks reported, according to Houston Public Works.

Turner said they're looking at state funds and grants to help pay for the repairs. The city expects issues from aging pipes will continue to be a problem in the meantime.

Another break involving water that the city council discussed was why the power went out at a purification plant triggering a boil water notice for more than two million people. Turner said crews are currently working to figure out what caused two transformers to blow, with even more help on the way from an outside team.

"Cost is not a factor here," Turner said. "We want the solutions on it."

Turner received heat from council members about how Houstonians found out about the boil water notice.

"I saw it on Twitter, and I didn't know what was going on," District F Councilmember Tiffany Thomas said. "I'm grateful that the departments are using social media because, otherwise, that information would not have been shared. But for those not on social media, our seniors, disabled, to have that information available, I think, would be helpful."

WATCH: City of Houston faces questions over boil water notice response

A review is underway to find out why people were not notified about the boil water situation in Houston.

Turner said the city is working with the office of emergency management to make changes in case another boil water notice is issued.

"We just need to have a better understanding as to when boil water notices should be issued," Turner said. "We do need to get a better understanding."

Turner said he'll report to the council when they learn about what went wrong. He provided no timeline on when that would be.