City seeks water funds amid infrastructure failure
Two major pipe blowouts last week shut down water service to the City of Olney for nearly three days, shuttering businesses and schools and leaving residents scrambling to find ways to cook, bathe and care for children and the elderly.
City work crews struggled for more than 72 hours - at times in torrential rain, hail, and lightning - to control leaks that bled the water storage tanks and lines of pressure, and to dig up and replace the burst pipes on Hall Road and Koester Road.
The city’s latest infrastructure woes came just days after City Administrator Arpegea Pagsuberon submitted an application for state funding to replace Olney’s aging water and wastewater pipes. Mayor Pro Tem Tom Parker traveled to Austin last month to lobby state lawmakers and the Texas Water Development Board for $16.5 million in state grants and other funding for a plan to ring the city with a new system of pipes, valves, and water storage tanks that will alleviate the frequent repairs to the existing pipes. Public Works Director Michael Jacoba recently estimated that his crews repair, on average, seven pipe breaks per month.
“I commend our Public Works Department, Arpegea, and the entire city staff for all of their efforts,” Mayor Rue Rogers said. “In the midst of a crisis, you see people’s character and how they respond. Our folks responded with hard work, grit, and determination to do whatever necessary to get the job done.”
Mayor Rogers last year spearheaded the sales of $13.5 million in revenue bonds to replace the city’s 100-year-old water treatment plant. He said the city hopes to break ground on the new facility in the second half of 2023 and is installing valves to divide the city into quadrants to isolate areas with leaking pipes. “As leaks occur, our Public Works replaces with newer, stronger materials,” he said. Mr. Jacoba also is mapping the water and sewer lines “so that we have the most updated information available to make decisions and address problems,” the mayor said.
Faulty maps and valves led to the cascading problems that shut off the city’s water on Tuesday evening, Mrs. Pagsuberon said.
State Rep. David Spiller (R-Olney), who sits on the House Appropriations and Water, Agriculture & Rural Affairs Committees, said he stands prepared to help the city and advised that he has “signed on as a co-author to [House Bill] 10, a priority bill that would provide additional significant financial assistance to programs administered by the TWDB, including those that address this chronic issue for rural communities.”
The Public Works crew detected a leak on Hall Road and Avenue G at about noon on Monday, Mrs. Pagsuberon said. “They went to shut the valve off and it didn’t shut that pipe off,” she said. “We have that too frequently … Michael looked at old maps … and we still couldn’t locate the source of the water.”
The break in the 5-inch main return line caused such a loss of pressure that at about 6 p.m., the city decided to shut the water off. “One of the valves was so old it broke off closed,” she said. “They replaced that valve. Then Michael went to turn the water on but the pump itself was an issue. If we are not able to regulate the pressure that we apply to the pipes they will break.”
Water was restored for a few hours, but most residents saw no more than a trickle. “He started noticing that the ground storage wasn’t building and the pressure wasn’t building up,” Mrs. Pagsuberon said. Mr. Jacoba and his crew found a new leak beneath a pasture on Koester Road north of town the next day. “It literally blew out a 15-foot long and 8-feet wide hole in the ground,” she said.
The Public Works crew dug out the 20-foot pipe section in a thunderstorm, Mrs. Pagsuberon said. “They spent the entire night working on uncovering that line. It was soaking wet, the equipment couldn’t get to the hole, she said. “They were using a suction trying to pull out water and mud. Once they did that it was 2 to 3 a.m. Wednesday morning. They spent the rest of the day trying to wrestle the mud and the water.”
Once the damaged pipe was freed, the City discovered it did not have a 20-foot section of 12-inch pipe, so it borrowed one from the City of Graham, Mrs. Pagsuberon said. Water was restored on Thursday morning and a boil order went into effect for the following day but was quickly cleared by Saturday by health officials in Wichita Falls.
The City Public Works crew consisted of Mr. Jacoba, Michael Seymour, Trey Messimer, James Mayes, Jon Guerra, Kevin Belyeu, Lloyd Newton, and Kristen Thurman, Mrs. Pagsuberon said. The City Council planned to address several water-related items at its March 13 meeting, Mayor Rogers said.
“Addressing our water infrastructure is the council’s top priority,” Mayor Rogers said. “We will continue working for immediate and long-term solutions to ensure the citizens of Olney have access to clean water.