It’s Not Just Corpus Christi – Water Infrastructure Is a Problem Across Texas

Aging pipes and water systems across the state need fixes and updates.

By Michael MarksDecember 19, 2016 2:16 pm

Officials lifted the three-and-a-half day ban on the use of tap water in Corpus Christi on Sunday. Residents can now use the water for drinking, showering and washing clothes and dishes.

The source of the contamination has been linked to a nearby asphalt plant, but city officials have not yet named a responsible party.

As the Corpus Christi Caller-Times and others have reported, there have been four water quality advisories – including this most recent one – in the past two years alone. This has sparked residents’ wariness about the safety of the city’s water supply.

But the Sparkling City by the Sea is not the only one in Texas with water infrastructure problems.

Perry Fowler is the executive director of the Texas Water Infrastructure Network, a trade association of contractors who work on water systems statewide. He says often infrastructure problems come from old pipes and connection treatment facilities that need to be upgraded.

“The main issue is that you have deferred maintenance and infrastructure that’s aging all across the state,” Fowler says. “Some of our communities, particularly older and larger ones, have significant needs, Corpus is one of those.”

Fowler says the lifespan of the iron and steel pipes that conduct water underground have a lifespan of about 50 to 60 years.

“You have large pressures on these communities to go in and fix these things,” he says. “It’s hard to keep up sometimes, especially with rocketing growth that these systems were not designed to accommodate.”

People who are citizens of a place where the water quality is consistently poor, or those that have concerns about the long-term viability of the water infrastructure, should go to their city council or their state legislator to address their concerns, Fowler says.

But Fowler says fixing and rebuilding new water infrastructure can get political. Getting a project approved by city council can be daunting, although the Texas legislature is receptive to water issues.

A few years ago, Texans voted to allocate $2 billion for water infrastructure projects and a plan which is supposed to provide for $27 billion over a 50-year period. But Fowler says projects like these can take a long time to get to the building phase.

“If you think of all the planning that it takes just to get permits and design done, by the time you get to construction – where our folks get in there – you may be five years down the road before even working on your project,” he says. “And some take much longer than that.”

Water treatment plants or new pipes can cost $20-50 million in some instances. In larger municipalities, Fowler says this infrastructure could cost $1 billion. If a city doesn’t have the money, they have to get a bond. Although most cities across the state understand the depth of their water needs, Fowler says they’re not always able to invest in fixes or a new system until their financial needs are met.

“A lot of communities across the state have used their water systems as a piggy bank for years,” he says. “This is our front line against death and disease. It’s extremely important stuff. So it’s extremely difficult.”

Post by Beth Cortez-Neavel.