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TCEQ Supporting Local Water Officials to Facilitate Lifting of Boil Water Notices

Saturday, Feb. 20, 2021 - Number of Texans experiencing water issues stabilized Friday night; more than 60 systems released from BWN
ContactGary Rasp
After Hrs512-239-5000

AUSTIN – As millions of Texans emerge from a grueling week of severe cold, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality is supporting communities across the state to restore local Public Water Systems that have been compromised by the severe weather.

While local Public Water Systems are responsible for enacting measures to restore their systems, TCEQ actively collaborates with local, state and federal agencies to ensure a coordinated response during severe weather events and other emergencies.

Public Water Systems – By the Numbers

For the first time since the winter storm struck last week causing a host of issues for PWSs, the number of Texans experiencing water issues stabilized Friday night. As of 10:45 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 20, 1,445 public water systems have reported disruptions in service due to the weather, many of them leading to Boil Water Notices. This is affecting nearly 14.4 million Texans in 190 counties. However, 64 BWNs have been rescinded.

TCEQ regional personnel are also working with local officials to bring wastewater systems back online as expeditiously as possible. As of 10:45 a.m. Saturday, 85 wastewater systems reported issues of some kind.

TCEQ maintains a running list of communities under the advisories, which is posted once daily on its severe cold weather incident webpage. These numbers are frequently changing depending on conditions and the progress of local systems’ efforts.

Ensuring Safe Drinking Water

TCEQ regulations provide local officials a roadmap of what they need to do to ensure drinking water is safe for residents served by water distribution systems.

It is critically important to ensure local drinking water is safe to consume. Before BWNs can be lifted, PWSs are required by TCEQ rules to conduct tests to ensure water is safe to drink.

TCEQ is working with local officials to return systems to normal operational status as quickly as possible. For systems to be released from a BWN, they are required to conduct sampling to ensure the water is safe to consume. These tests are required by state law to be conducted by accredited drinking water labs. Given the number of water systems affected by this event, TCEQ is working to secure assistance from as many labs as possible.

“TCEQ is doing everything we can to support water systems as they recover from this weather event,” said TCEQ Executive Director Toby Baker. “We understand that it’s tough to be without water, or to have to boil it before consuming it, because we’re experiencing it firsthand alongside so many Texans.”

TCEQ has asked the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Environmental Protection Agency to send mobile labs to Texas to provide expanded options for testing water samples. Baker said TCEQ has also requested that Texas river authorities qualified to test drinking water make their labs available for testing.

For water system operators who require technical assistance or whose labs cannot process bacteriological drinking water samples, TCEQ will assist in locating an available lab through a hotline: 855-685-8237. This hotline is for water system operators only; the public should direct questions to their local water systems.

Why are So Many Texans Without Water or Under Boil Water Notices?

Water systems across the state lost power and subsequently have been unable to treat water at treatment facilities or pump treated water into their distribution systems. Many systems have had to deal with water main breaks, mechanical failures, frozen or broken water lines, and increased customer demand.

These and other problems led PWSs to issue BWNs throughout the week to protect residents from drinking water that may have been contaminated with bacteria or other organisms.

Under TCEQ rules, public water systems must issue BWNs if any of these conditions occur:

  • water outages
  • low distribution pressures (below 20 pounds per square inch)
  • microbiological samples found to contain elevated E. coli levels
  • inadequate disinfectant residuals
  • elevated surface water turbidities such as clay, silt or algae
  • other conditions indicating drinking water supply has been compromised

Rescinding Boil Water Notices

To rescind the BWN, the local Public Water Systems must:

  • Determine that water in their system does not pose an acute health risk
  • Disinfect affected areas or the entire distribution system
  • Collect bacteriological samples and obtain negative coliform results
  • Return to normal operating parameters, including power restoration, required water pressure levels, minimum disinfectant residual levels, no excessive turbidity

For more information on this severe cold weather event, visit TCEQ’s event response page. Updates and tips will also be posted to Facebook and Twitter.