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When The Water Runs Brown, Start Your Own Water Company.
Find Out How These Four Texas Communities Are Reclaiming Their Right To Clean Water.
The Beastie Boys said it. “You gotta fight for your right to party.” And in the U.S. in 2023, many communities have to fight for their right to clean water.
Meet the South Plains Water Supply Corporation. A project created by the people for the people.
“No Texan should pay for water they can’t drink,” their website states.
The water in four unincorporated communities near Lubbock, Texas, has been undrinkable for years, according to residents, who have relied on bottled water.
Instead of waiting for someone to come save them, they decided to create their own water utility with the hopes that it can help them apply for more than $3 million in state grants to improve their water infrastructure.
During a community meeting this summer, residents held mason jars filled with brown, cloudy water, It’s a visual I know all too well.
Water quality issues have plagued the 300-plus residents of these rural West Texas communities, according to reporting in The Texas Tribune.
The communities include North Town Village, North Town Estates, Cox Addition, and Plott Acres. The new organization is run by a board of directors who represent all four areas.
These community members have received regular notices of water quality violations from the Texas Commission of Environmental Quality, the state’s environmental agency.
In nearby Lubbock, the Director of Water Utilities said, “The City of Lubbock’s drinking water meets or exceeds all regulatory standards. We are proud to continuously deliver safe, pure, and reliable tap water to the citizens of Lubbock for their enjoyment.”
While residents in these outlying areas have a different water story.
For the latest quarter assessed by the U.S. EPA (January 2021 - March 2021), tap water provided by their water utilities was in serious violation of federal health-based drinking water standards.
The violations include elevated levels of arsenic, fluoride, and PFAS chemicals.
The lack of oversight for drinking water utilities is dangerous.
In April 2021, the state stepped in to help after an investigation revealed the owner and operator of the four water systems had died, and that the new operator had suffered a medical emergency. TCEQ has now appointed an independent company to temporarily manage the deteriorating, abandoned water systems.
It’s like offering a napkin to someone whose house has flooded.
A temporary manager only runs the current system with no power to change or improve it.
“They aren’t even a local entity so they aren’t motivated to improve the situation for us,” Deborah Hunt, a resident of Town North Estates and secretary-treasurer of South Plains Water Supply Corporation, told The Texas Tribune. “And so now we’ve come together to try to get quality water.”
Hunt also shared that she hasn’t drank the water in years because of its poor taste and that she and her neighbors have dealt with low water pressure.
Texas is known for its bigger is better mentality, but when it comes to its water systems, many small, rural systems throughout the state have struggled thanks to their small budgets and staff.
The state’s drinking water infrastructure barely received a passing grade in a 2021 report from the American Society of Civil Engineers.
Deteriorating water infrastructure is responsible for a growing number of boil-water notices throughout the state.
“Though several of the infrastructure categories reviewed show areas of adequate performance, the clear majority indicate that Texas’ infrastructure lacks funding, proper maintenance, and is poorly equipped to deal with environmental change as Texas continues to grow,” according to the report.
Between 2018 and 2022, water utilities issued 55 percent more boil-water notices than they did over the previous five-year period, according to a Texas Tribune analysis of data from the TCEQ.
The problem is even worse in rural parts of the state where less people means less taxes collected to help fund water infrastructure projects.
In fact, Texas has the largest rural population in the country. Almost 4.8 million people live outside a metro area in Texas, according to estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau. But they are spread out among water utilities across the state, while the total population is approaching 29 million people.
Another factor impacting drinking water is having the staff to maintain these systems.
“Looking at recent survey data released by the Texas Water Infrastructure Network and Water Opinions LLC, 82 percent of water utilities surveyed are worried about their current or future workforce capacity,” said Jeremy Mazur, Texas 2036 water senior policy advisor, in a recent interview. “While the need for investing in new water supplies and fixing failing systems is real, so, too, is the need for expanding our water workforce.”
This org has created a legislative blueprint to help address the ongoing water infrastructure crisis.
I hope more elected officials across the state take notice.
As for the South Plains Water Supply Corporation, I wish them the best in their efforts to improve their local drinking water.
According to their website, their mission is: less a mission than a purpose, we plan to, over the next eight months or so we’ll be working hard to acquire the facilities currently operated by a state-directed manager.
Then we’ll be addressing other essential tasks like:
Identify, apply for, and secure grants and loans to bring the systems into compliance
Develop required plans and procedures
Prepare a standardized reporting system
Upgrade administrative management more
The 2021 Texas Infrastructure Report Card, offered the following recommendations to improve the state’s drinking water:
Comprehensive risk assessments and new initiatives should be incorporated into the planning, design, construction, operations, and maintenance activities for drinking water infrastructure.
Encourage utilities to adopt rate models to fund adequate maintenance of drinking water infrastructure. Rates should reflect the true cost of supplying clean, reliable drinking water.
Improve asset management to plan and project adequate maintenance funding needs and to prioritize the capital improvement needs.
Use asset management data to communicate long-term funding needs to Federal and State leaders.
Implement leakage management controls to support the infrastructure’s ability to meet long-term water supply demand.
The Texas Legislature should help fund costs of compliance of new drinking water treatment standards through legislation.
It’s up to all of us to get engaged and keep fighting for our right to clean water.
What’s happening with the water where you live? Let us know in the comments below!