The mayor of Houston defends the boiling order as millions are without water

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner warned people Monday not to compare the city’s current boil-water order to last year’s “February freeze,” when the state’s power grid collapsed and 246 people died.

While both were caused by power outages — the boiling sequence when a malfunction on Sunday at a water treatment plant caused water pressure to drop, raising concerns about potential contamination — that’s where the similarities end, he said.

“The February freeze is a whole different thing,” Turner said at a news conference. “You lost power and water and things stayed off for several days, okay? Several days.”

Turner shared a timeline of events leading up to the water boiling report and said state law requires a city to notify the public within 24 hours of the incident — a requirement he said the city will meet. had fulfilled. The order prompted officials to close public schools for at least one day. Turner was joined at the press conference Monday by Carol Haddock, the director of Houston Public Works.

According to Turner, two transformers failed, knocking out power at the East Water Purification Plant, which he says supplies water to a large portion of Houston’s 2.2 million residents. There was no evidence that the water system was contaminated, he said.

Water quality was being tested and the notice would be lifted by Tuesday morning, he said. The East Water Purification Plant is located outside of town, in Galena Park.

    Eastern water treatment plant in Galena Park
The entrance to the East Water Purification Plant in Galena Park, outside of Houston, on Monday. Brandon Bell/Getty Images

On Sunday morning, 16 sensors marked drops below the minimum pressure levels of 20 psi, or pounds per square inch, required by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. Fourteen sensors marked dips for just 2 minutes and two for nearly 30 minutes, Turner said.

Power to the plant was restored by 12:30 a.m., he said. If contamination occurred when the pressure dropped, it could still pass through the system, which is why the boiling alert remained in effect despite enough pressure, he said.

The city issued the boiling water notice in an “abundance of caution” after the main transformer and backup failed, Turner said. Even if the generators had been turned on, the problem would still have occurred, he said.

“Now I’ve instructed Public Works to do a general survey of our system, a diagnostics, to see how we can prevent this from happening again,” Turner said.

He said talks between the city and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality took place from 2:43 p.m. to 6:40 p.m., and a decision was made sometime between 6 p.m. and 6:40 p.m. that a boiling water alert should be issued. . The message was sent to the public at 6:44 p.m., Turner said.

When asked why residents of the nation’s fourth-largest city had not been notified sooner, Turner said, “That’s why we have a process.”

“What I can say to people is that this was a situation that was not overlooked, ignored,” Turner said.

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