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Mobilizing, taking quick action, and collaborating

July 16, 2018 – TCEQ’s actions protect drinking water and residents

Water collected during well head flushing at the beginning of the event.
Water collected during well head flushing at the beginning of the event.
(L to R) Tim Blackmon, Stephen Julian, Rebecca Tyra, Jeff Kunze, David Van Soest, Jason Neumann, Kaleb Nehring, Robert Ozmet, Laura Fanestiel, and Richard Monreal.
(L to R) Tim Blackmon, Stephen Julian, Rebecca Tyra, Jeff Kunze, David Van Soest, Jason Neumann, Kaleb Nehring, Robert Ozmet, Laura Fanestiel, and Richard Monreal.

In May, black, oily water with a strong diesel odor prompted customers of the Moore’s Water System in Axtell, Texas to contact the TCEQ Region 9-Waco office. The owner of the water system, John Moore, also notified the TCEQ that his system’s well was pumping oily water. After receiving these initial calls, TCEQ staff mobilized and were on-site the same day conducting a preliminary investigation.

“Our staff got there immediately and put eyes on the situation. Our first efforts are to make a visual assessment and serve in an advising capacity, determining what steps the system needs to take and what repairs they need to make,” comments David Van Soest, regional director, Region 9-Waco.

The TCEQ instructed Moore to issue a “Do Not Drink or Use for Any Purpose Notice” to all his water customers without delay. However, seeing that the notice was not being distributed quickly enough, TCEQ regional staff took matters into their own hands and personally went door to door distributing the notice to all 84 households (252 people) served by the water system.

On the same day, the first day of the preliminary investigation, water samples were collected and sent to the Lower Colorado River Authority lab to be analyzed for volatile organic compounds and total petroleum hydrocarbons. TCEQ investigators also advised Moore to stop pumping water and to shut down all connections to the distribution system.

Complaints continued. Several residents reported odors from residual water in their homes and, just to be sure, staffers took action to determine if there were any risks to the residents. Back at the regional office, Tinicha McKinney and Stephen Julian found themselves swamped with complaint calls from the customers of the system. Julian also compiled the incident report for this event.

“Often some of the most challenging work is done behind the scenes with these types of events. Every region staff member has a part to play either directly or indirectly—from the receptionist taking complaint calls from upset customers, up through the managers reassigning work, responding to information requests, and picking up other duties to keep normal operations moving,” says Van Soest.

Rebecca Tyra and Jason Neumann prepare summa air quality sampling kits for use to test air in residents’ homes.
Rebecca Tyra and Jason Neumann prepare summa air quality sampling kits for use to test air in residents’ homes.

In consultation with the TCEQ’s Toxicology Division, TCEQ staffers also wanted to evaluate residents’ homes to address their concerns regarding odors. “While the TCEQ does not have jurisdiction over indoor air quality, regional staff and agency contractors were going to residents’ homes to conduct monitoring to determine if there were any air quality issues,” comments Van Soest. “Our on-scene coordinator Jeff Kunze worked with contractors to conduct some of the 74 in-home air assessments over a five-day period and none of the assessments indicated any issues or concerns.

Anatomy of an emergency response

The incident quickly became an emergency response effort and the TCEQ began to organize and coordinate resources to provide emergency supplies of water and portable showers for the residents. TCEQ staff members from both the regional office and headquarters in Austin worked with Texas Department of Emergency Management staff who facilitated the delivery of bottled water and portable showers. They also worked with Moore to deliver bottled water to customers with mobility issues.

There were many moving parts and steps that had to take place to resolve the situation. In addition to TDEM, TCEQ regional staffers worked closely with the McLennan County Emergency Management coordinator; the TCEQ’s experts in the Critical Infrastructure Division, Office of Water, and Toxicology Division; and the Railroad Commission of Texas. The Office of Water and the Toxicology Division developed sampling procedures, resident notices, and assisted in providing sampling bottles as needed to the region. Additionally, staffers in the Office of Water provided technical assistance, both on-site and from the TCEQ central office, to the system regarding system operations, and experts in the Toxicology Division quickly reviewed sampling data in an effort to return the system to service. The response demonstrated the hard work and many different skills necessary to get usable water back to residents as soon as possible.

“We went to senior citizens’ homes and delivered bottled water, and made sure folks were okay. We also worked on keeping folks calm and assisted in making sure residents were updated on the status of the situation,” comments Timothy Blackmon, Sr. with Region 9-Waco.

Contractors and TCEQ staff fixed joints and added sample taps in the distribution lines.
Contractors and TCEQ staff fixed joints and added sample taps in the distribution lines.

In addition, TCEQ staff personally helped fix joints in the flushing lines and were with agency contractors on-site over the entire initial weekend of the emergency to observe and conduct sampling of area homes as needed.

TCEQ region staff members got specialized advice from Texas Optimization Program volunteers. All of them literally got in the trenches making repairs, creating sampling ports, flushing valves, and working with the system owner. Their actions showed the commitment staff have to their job and the people of Texas. The work conducted behind the scenes by the Waco region’s administrative and investigative staff members, and staff members at the TCEQ’s main campus in Austin, enabled on-site staff to do what they do best. 

To quickly supply water to customers, region staffers actively worked with Moore and the president of EOL Water Supply Corporation, a neighboring water system, to establish a temporary interconnection. Once the location for the interconnection was determined, construction began and was completed a week later.

The TCEQ then began to work on the coordination and implementation of a flushing plan. Once all the leaks were fixed, TCEQ contractors installed flush valves and fine-tuned the plan.

“The flushing plan included flushing the distribution system with all connections closed and capturing the water for disposal. This is a procedure that cleans out any residue and sediment left in the lines and prepares the system so it can resume operation. As part of this process, water samples were taken and a communications plan was created to inform residents of the procedures for the flushing operation,” says Van Soest.

Then, it was time to put the plan into action. At first, part of the distribution system was pressurized and flushed to test the lines and identify any additional leaks or issues. Then the whole distribution system was pressurized and a disinfectant solution of sodium hypochlorite was left in the lines for approximately 36 hours. After that the solution was flushed again and replaced with fresh water.

Once the residual chlorine was at normal levels, more samples were taken and tested for bacteria, metals, semi-volatile organic compounds, and total petroleum hydrocarbons. After this step, TCEQ staff, contractors, and Moore systematically restored water to some residents and conducted the initial flushing. During this process some additional leaks were identified in the system and at the meter boxes. All these issues were then addressed or repaired. Staff then distributed in-home flushing instructions to residents and explained the process where needed. Flushing by residents began and subsequent water sample results determined that the water could be used for bathing, showering, washing and flushing of toilets, but not for drinking, cooking, or other activities until all water sample tests were completed.

After almost 30-days of nonstop work and coordination, there were no further issues reported with the Moore’s Water System and the interconnection with the EOL Water Supply Corporation. Subsequent test results indicated that the water was good for all purposes including consumption and cooking. Residents received a notice informing them that the water was available for all purposes.

(Back row from left) David Mann, Kaleb Nehring, Jason Neumann, Tim Blackmon, Jeff Kunze, and Robert Ozment. (Front row from left) Stephen Julian, David Van Soest, Elizabeth Moman, Rebecca Tyra, Gailynn Milligan, Laura Fanestiel, and Richard Monreal.
(Back row from left) David Mann, Kaleb Nehring, Jason Neumann, Tim Blackmon, Jeff Kunze, and Robert Ozment. (Front row from left) Stephen Julian, David Van Soest, Elizabeth Moman, Rebecca Tyra, Gailynn Milligan, Laura Fanestiel, and Richard Monreal.

Additional impacts

Oily substance affects land and private lake in community

Because of the cracked well casing and various leaks in the water system, crude oil contaminated not only the water in the system but also caused a discharge of oily water that swept onto land. There was concern that a private lake in the community may have been affected. TCEQ contractors removed and vacuumed oily water from the soil and placed booms and temporary stormwater controls (berms) to prevent further spread of contaminated water. TCEQ staffers were also on-site at Beaver Lake and confirmed that there were no impacts to the lake. Impacted soil was approved for disposal and removed from the site. The well site and other impacted areas were graded and clean soil was added.

Proper disposal of flush water and graywater

TCEQ obtained two frac tanks for draining the groundwater storage and pressure tanks, and for collecting system flush water after the interconnection was completed. All sediments were removed from the ground storage and pressure tanks. Tanks were flushed and cleaned and sediments were transported for disposal.

Pump trucks emptied the flush water from the frac tanks into the city of Waco lift station and residents were given oil pads to absorb and dispose of oily flush water. The pads were collected and properly disposed of as well.

Staffers also worked with the city of Waco to determine how to dispose of the graywater from the portable showers.

Because of the limited resources of the water system and nature of the issues, the TCEQ, along with partners, from near and far, took immediate actions that were above and beyond normal everyday activities. The restoration of the water system to full use concluded this well-executed emergency response by TCEQ staff, partnering agencies, Moore, and residents.

This truly was a coordinated event to restore water service to the residents of this community, and a total team effort to serve and protect the state’s natural resources.

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All photos TCEQ.