BEEVILLE – This week’s loss of water service was blamed on numerous major water line leaks and one employee at the George P. Morrill Water Treatment Plant at Swinney Switch.
That was the message from City Water Superintendent Cesario Vela as he answered questions before a standing-room-only crowd at City Hall late Wednesday morning.
Vela reported correctly on how soon the problem would be corrected. By noon Wednesday, most Beeville utility customers were finding water pressures returning to normal.
By Wednesday evening, water pressures were back to normal in most parts of the city. Residents were taking showers again for the first time since Tuesday morning.
“We’re really working on it,” Vela told the council. He said the dozen water line breaks his repair crew had faced in recent days is normal for this time of year.
But the levels of water in the storage tanks around the city had dropped to 25 percent or less of their capacity.
To add to the problem, Vela said water usage at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice’s William G. McConnell Unit almost doubled for some unexplained reason.
The Swinney Switch plant was pumping water to the city at a normal rate when one of the employees there dumped three gallons of a chemical into one of the clarifiers.
Vela said no employee is supposed to be putting chemicals into the clarifiers without getting permission from the supervisor.
In that case, the employee intentionally avoided getting permission to add the chemical.
“He didn’t want to bother the supervisor,” Vela said.
The result was that the additional chemical caused the plant’s four filtering units to clog up, practically stopping the flow of water to Beeville.
By Wednesday morning, all four of the filters had been backwashed and were clear again.
“The employee was terminated,” Vela said.
By Wednesday, the plant was pumping 3,000 gallons of treated water a minute to Beeville, or about 5.6 million gallons a day. That was up from the normal flow of 3.6 mgd normally pumped to the city at this time of year.
“Within 24 hours, it should be corrected,” Vela told the council.
Fortunately, a Texas Commission on Environmental Quality team was in town to instruct water department employees on how to avoid an earlier problem with turbidity. High levels of suspended and dissolved solids in the city’s water had prompted the TCEQ to order the city to issue a “boil water” notice recently.
Vela said the team was helping treatment plant personnel to bring turbidity back down to acceptable levels.
The superintendent said the city could have used its original system of wells to supplement water supplies if they had been maintained. But the wells are no longer operable.
Vela suggested that the city begin developing a dependable well site to prevent such emergencies in the future.
By noon Wednesday, Vela said, the city’s storage tanks at FM Road 351 on the city’s north side, near Coastal Bend College and on South Mussett Street, had been filled. He said the other storage tanks located more in the center of town were slowly being filled at that time.
“As soon as a tank is filled, it gets drained,” Vela explained.
Apparently, a decrease in water usage Wednesday night was what the system needed to recover. Water pressures seemed to have returned to normal.
However, a “boil water” notice was still in effect. That is expected to be lifted by TCEQ experts within a few days.
Gary Kent is a reporter at the Bee-Picayune and can be reached at 358-2550, ext. 120, or at reporter@mySouTex.com.