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Houston issues boil water notice for 2.2 million customers

The Houston skyline in 2018.
Miguel Gutierrez Jr. The Texas Tribune
The Houston skyline in 2018.

Millions of residents in the Houston area are expected to remain under a boil water notice until Tuesday. At least four area school districts are closed Monday in response.

After a power outage at the East Water Purification Plant on Sunday, the nation’s fourth-largest city told water customers to boil water for at least two minutes before preparing food, drinking, bathing or brushing teeth. Customers were also told avoid using water from refrigerators or ice makers. Those who cannot boil water are advised to use bottled water.

According to Houston Public Works, its water system serves 2.2 million customers, including residents in the surrounding cities and municipal utility districts. The city of Bellaire, for example, has issued a boil water notice because it is served by Houston’s water system.

All Houston school district campuses, offices and facilities are closed due to the notice. The nearby Aldine, Pasadena and Spring Branch school districts also canceled Monday classes, the Houston Chronicle reported.

The boil water notice is expected to be lifted on Tuesday morning after state regulators review the city’s water samples, according to Houston Public Works spokesperson Erin Jones.

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality approved the city’s plan to test the water early Monday. City employees have began collecting samples to send to the lab, where they must sit for 18 hours, Jones said.

During the power outage at 10:30 a.m. Sunday, water pressure at the plant briefly dropped below required minimum levels. Water pressure in the entire system is back above minimum levels for safety, Jones said Sunday.

Low pressure hurts water quality and can be a threat to public health. A reduction or loss of pressure in a water distribution system can result in backflow, when water flows in the wrong direction, allowing contaminants to enter drinking water.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner’s office tweeted overnight that city officials believe the water is safe. A boil water notice was issued out of an abundance of caution and to comply with regulatory standards, according to Yvonne Williams Forrest, Houston’s water director.

“Our system maintained pressure. We never lost pressure fully,” Forrest told KHOU-TV. “So there was never an opportunity for anything to enter our system. They just fell below the regulatory requirements.”

The city waited several hours to issue the boil water notice. Employees were sent out to the field to verify the calibration monitors before the public was notified. Forrest said the city first thought a water main break was causing the system to malfunction but later learned it was due to a power outage. Forrest said the city is investigating what caused the outage.

Gov. Greg Abbott directed state emergency resources to the city and said he has been in contact with Turner.

"We’re currently working to fulfill the city’s request for help with rapid turnaround of water sample results,” Abbott said in a statement.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2022/11/27/houston-boil-water/.

The Texas Tribune is a member-supported, nonpartisan newsroom informing and engaging Texans on state politics and policy. Learn more at texastribune.org.

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