This Texas City Has Gone Without Safe Tap Water For Almost 2 Weeks

A citywide water boil advisory in Corpus Christi is affecting people, schools and businesses alike.
A man walks through the water on Kostoryz Road on Monday, May 16, 2016, in Corpus Christi, Texas. Storms have contributed to
A man walks through the water on Kostoryz Road on Monday, May 16, 2016, in Corpus Christi, Texas. Storms have contributed to ongoing issues with the city's water supply.

The nickname of Corpus Christi, Texas -- the eighth largest city in the state by population, and one of the 60 largest cities in the U.S. -- is the Sparkling City by the Sea.

It's not a terribly apt nickname right now.

That’s because the coastal city of about 300,000 is nearly two weeks into a widespread water boil advisory, its third in the past 10 months.

The city issued the latest advisory on May 13 after low levels of chlorine disinfectant were detected in the city’s water system, making the water risky for residents to ingest. Similar advisories were issued in July and September 2015.

Though no E. coli or other bacteria has been detected in the city’s water supply, the advisory won’t be lifted until Wednesday at the earliest, as the chlorine the city is using to treat the problem is taking longer than anticipated to spread, according to local news reports.

As the treatment was completed by 2 p.m. local time on Tuesday, it will be at least another 18 hours before water samples may confirm disinfectant levels and authorities can call off the advisory, a city spokeswoman said.

Much has happened since the boil advisory began. Corpus Christi city manager Ron Olson resigned from office on May 17 amid the scandal, and some residents are now urging Mayor Nelda Martinez to follow in his footsteps. A Facebook page calling for Martinez to be recalled has received more than 1,500 likes as of Tuesday evening.

Residents, of course, are not happy. Emily Suggs, a 38-year-old writer and stay-at-home mom who lives on the city’s south side, says her family has been relying heavily on bottled water since the boil order began.

It's a major inconvenience, she said. But she's more concerned with how the city’s lower-income residents, who may not be able to afford bottled water, are dealing with the order.

If you have never been under a boil advisory before, it's like having a part-time job, watching water boil,” Suggs told The Huffington Post in an email.

The situation has also caught the attention of well-known environmental activist Erin Brockovich, whose colleague, the water quality expert Robert Bowcock, traveled to Corpus Christi on Monday to participate in a special city council meeting on the matter.

Bowcock reportedly said this week that Corpus Christi is "light years ahead" of other cities in terms of water treatment, and that he was confident the city has the tools it needs to prevent similar issues in the future.

Of course, issues of this sort aren't limited to Corpus Christi.

As HuffPost noted this week in a national analysis of water boil notices, many U.S. cities are struggling to address deteriorating conditions in their water systems -- conditions that often result in water main breaks and boil advisories. The analysis found 142 advisories in 27 different states over the course of one month.

Erik Olson, the Natural Resources Defense Council’s health and environment program director, described Corpus Christi’s issues as “indicative of a much broader problem.”

“We think a lot of peoples’ health is being threatened by deteriorated, crumbling water infrastructure,” Olson told HuffPost. “It’s largely out of sight, out of mind, until people are told to boil their water and it seems to come out of nowhere. But it’s entirely predictable and is occurring in cities across the country.”

Some residents, like Suggs, remain skeptical that the city’s treatment plan will get at the heart of the problem, which has also affected Corpus Christi restaurants and area schools. According to KRIS, the local NBC affiliate, the local school district is spending about $15,000 per school day on bottled water for its students.

There doesn't seem to be an answer as to why this has happened again,” Suggs said.

Jordan Davison, a 19-year-old college student and movie theater manager, has lived in Corpus Christi his whole life. He’s somewhat optimistic the city will take the necessary steps to address the maintenance needs of its decaying water system. At the same time, though, he's not totally sure it will happen.

“I don't believe the city is prioritizing what's best for its people,” Davison told HuffPost.

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, which called for the advisory, provided the following statement to HuffPost on Tuesday:

The City of Corpus Christi and the TCEQ are cooperatively addressing this issue and progress is being made. The city initiated a temporary chlorine conversion (from chloramine to free chlorine) at noon on Thursday, May 19, 2016. The purpose of the conversion is to improve the quality of water. The TCEQ will continue to work with the city and provide technical assistance, as needed. As of today, May 24, 2016, the city continues the conversion to free chlorine throughout the distribution system. Once the conversion is complete, additional monitoring will be conducted and results evaluated to determine compliance with free chlorine residual and bacteriological parameters.

Mark Van Vleck, Corpus Christi's assistant city manager, and Dan Grimsbo, the city's interim director of utilities treatment, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

UPDATE: The TCEQ announced in a news release Wednesday afternoon that testing of Corpus Christi's water had met the criteria for the boil water advisory to be lifted. The city announced the end of the advisory, effective immediately, at a 5 p.m. news conference.



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