Houston Shutters Schools as Power Outages Imperil Water Supply

  • In Business
  • 2022-11-28 15:18:53Z
  • By Bloomberg

(Bloomberg) -- Houston ordered schools to close and warned residents not to drink tap water without first boiling it after power outages shut treatment plants.

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Water pressure in the city's distribution network fell below levels required to ensure it's safe to drink on Sunday after electrical failures at a major water-treatment complex, according to municipal leaders.

Although power was restored within two hours, pressure readings in some parts of the city continued to drop, Mayor Sylvester Turner told KRIV-TV on Monday. Testing samples will take at least 18 hours, which means the water won't be deemed safe until at least late Monday or early Tuesday, he added.

Turner blamed the nine-hour gap between the power outage and the boil order on procedural issues and said state environmental regulators had the final say.

"Misinformation is being given out," the mayor told KRIV. "When all of the information was submitted based on the findings from different sensors, the decision was made to issue the boil order notice out of an abundance of caution."

High-rise office towers in the fourth-largest US city told tenants that fire-suppression and air-conditioning systems wouldn't be impacted by the boil order issued late Sunday evening.

The power failure at Houston's East Water Purification Plant was limited to isolated parts of the complex and an investigation is underway, Houston Public Works spokesperson Erin Jones said during an interview. The plant has generators for emergencies like hurricanes but Sunday's blackout wasn't the type that would trigger those backups, she said.

"It wasn't a general loss of power, it was something within the plant," she said. "We don't know what caused the outage." Utility company CenterPoint Energy Inc. said the failure appeared to be an internal plant issue unrelated to its electricity network.

The water outages spread beyond Houston's city limits, prompting school closures in suburban districts that rely on municipal supplies.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott dispatched environmental-testing teams to assist Houston in restoring the potable water system.

After consultations 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 on Sunday night. "We urge those that the boil water notice affects to continue heeding the guidance of local officials and take adequate precautions when boiling and using water."

(Adds a comment from the mayor in the fifth paragraph)

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