For at least a decade, many residents of Placedo, in Victoria County have avoided drinking water from the town’s public water supply. That’s because state records indicate the water there has contained illegal levels of arsenic since 2008.
A history of misuse of funds by Placedo’s current water board is prompting local residents to take matters into their own hands.
Marina Riker covers local government for the Victoria Advocate and has been following the story.
Placedo is about 15 miles south of Victoria, Texas. It’s an agriculturally-based community and, Riker says, most of the 700 or 800 residents of the town know each other. They have been buying bottled water because they’re too afraid to drink from the town’s water supply.
Placedo’s water board’s attempts to get the arsenic out of the system have been unsuccessful. While the town’s water remains undrinkable, the board has tried to raise taxes by about 32 percent. Residents of the town were skeptical about the need for the increased tax revenue when no progress has been made in cleaning the water. They began filing open records requests to look into the issue. Riker says many of these requests were stonewalled.
“They did get some records that indicated that the board has been misusing their taxpayer money,” she says, “Now, I think, people are really angry and that’s why they’re getting more involved in this issue.”
According to scientists Riker spoke to, arsenic occurs naturally in the soil and the aquifer. Other water systems in the area have had to deal with this problem. But for Placedo, finding a solution has been an ongoing struggle. The board has hired an independent contractor to get rid of the arsenic but, as of now, it hasn’t worked.
Placedo is unusual in that it’s an unincorporated community. The town doesn’t have a mayor and there is no city government. This leaves the water department as the main governmental entity in the town. The officials elected to the board are in control of everyone’s drinking water.
State and federal officials have tried to provide some oversight. The Texas Commission for Environmental Quality and the Environmental Protection Agency have ordered the district to clean up its act. But, as long as the district works toward the goal of cleaning the water, those agencies won’t take more definite action. But Placedo residents are frustrated that the efforts haven’t worked. Now, three residents have stepped up to run in the upcoming water board election.
“Residents hope that if they get elected they can try to turn this water system around,” Riker says. “I’m sure is not going to be an easy task at all.
Written by Jeremy Steen.