TYLER, Texas (KETK) — East Texas is no stranger when it comes to boil water notices, especially after 2021’s February freeze when millions of Texas residents were under advisories. Aside from last year’s storm, some people are experiencing boil water notices on a regular basis.

Boiling water for everyday activities like showering, brushing your teeth and watering animals or plants is tolling, but it’s a task that some people in East Texas are having to do all too often.

Logan Graham was born and raised in Gladewater and has lived there his entire life, until now. Last year Graham and his family packed their bags and moved to Longview.

Graham said that one of the reasons he and his family moved was because of how often the boil water notices were issued.

“The boil water notices I mean it kept on, kept on happening probably at least, at least once or twice every three months. I mean it was crazy. It happened too many times,” said Graham.

He said he hasn’t had any problems with his water since moving.

“You could never get the water hot over there, and I mean unless you boiled it but I mean here you got running hot water, you got everything. So it’s a lot better atmosphere in Longview,” said Graham.

We reached out to the City of Gladewater to see what they had to say about the frequent boil water notices.

“The last couple of boil water notices we’ve had is dealing more with the plant as we’ve tried doing different modifications. Just timing wise, we couldn’t get it done quick enough then it hurt us on that, and we’ve had to do some adjustments there but we’re trying to minimize them,” said Ricky Tow, Gladewater City Manager.

This year in East Texas, there have been at least eight boil water notices across the area due to reasons like water main breaks that resulted in a loss of pressure.

Following a boil water notice, city water officials provide the Texas Commission of Environmental Quality (TCEQ) with laboratory tests that indicate the water no longer requires boiling before a boil water notice is lifted.

  • One boil water notice that was issued in January for Rusk Rural Water Supply customers was issued due to conditions that occurred in the water system, according to the company.
  • In October 2021, Jacksonville ISD canceled classes for one day, due to to a water main break that affected the entire city. Students were able to return to class after one day off while the city remained under the notice. According to a post by the district, bottled water was provided on campuses and hot lunch was served following strict health department guidelines.

From Feb. 1, 2021 to the beginning of this February, the City of Gladewater reported six boil water notices, according to the Texas Commission of Environmental Quality.

One notice that was issued in March 2021 in Gladewater was due to a power outage that the city said caused equipment failure which resulted in reduced system pressure.

“It was fracturing that old line quite often when we got into high usage, which high usage because people are using it, now we’ve inconvenienced them because we don’t have water,” said Tow.

Gladewater is not alone with this problem. The City of Marshall issued nine boil water notices this past year.

The chart below shows how many boil water notices were issued in 10 East Texas counties from Feb. 1, 2021 to Feb. 1, 2022, according to the TCEQ.

“The majority of the boil water notices are due to some problem within the system,” said Eric Powell, Director of Public Works & City Engineer with the City of Marshall.

Under the TCEQ rules, public water systems must issue boil water notices if certain conditions occur.

A few examples are

  1. Water outages
  2. Low water pressure
  3. Water main breaks

“Whenever you get a break in the water line and you get dirt and other things entering into the water, there’s what’s called pathogens. There’s either simple bacteria or there’s stronger things and certain folks can be susceptible to that,” said Powell.

If you ingest water while under a do not drink advisory:

“It can cause them stomach issues, it can cause gastrointestinal issues and things like that and what the boil water notice says is that if you’re prone to that, it’s recommended, it’s an advisory that you boil your water before you ingest it. So, to eliminate the potential for those things affecting you, it’s about the health and safety of your customer,” said Powell.

If your home is placed under a boil water notice or a do not drink advisory:

First, you’ll need to grab a pot and fill it with water.

Then, Turn the stove on high and let the water heat until you see bubbles rise to the top.

Once the water reaches a rolling boil, let it continue for two minutes.

After, go ahead and turn off the heat source and let the water cool.

Next, pour the water into a clean container and then it’s ready for use. 

“What that’s going to effectively do is any bacteria or organism that’s going to get in that water pipe due to the break, is not going to cause you any harm because you effectively killed it with boiling it,” said Powell.

Some East Texans are more familiar with the process, including the City of Marshall, which Powell estimates has an average of one boil water notice per month.

“We probably do average more than some other cities due to our age of our infrastructure. I would say on average, we probably do 8-to-10 notices a year for that,” said Powell.

He said that is not normal.

“I mean, I hope it’s not normal. I would like to get that down to a lower number, but sometimes we don’t have a choice like when I say we’re doing new work to replace old mains, sometimes we don’t have a choice but to put people without water until we finish the work, or to replace something. So sometimes it’s not because of the infrastructure breaking, it’s because we’re trying to improve things,” said Powell.

Graham says the same is true for Gladewater.

“When we were in Gladewater we had to do it a lot and it was like back to back different times,” said Graham.

How could this problem be prevented?

“The newer the system, the less chance there is for a problem for the older systems, the more chance there is for a problem,” said Powell.

Powell says the City of Marshall has pipes ranging from 70 to 90 years old, and the same goes for Gladewater.

“The pipes here in teens, 20s the bulk of them. You know there is some newer stuff in the newer ends of town but the bulk of them are between 20s or 50s is the bulk of our lines,” said Tow.

Meaning they were built between the 1920s to 1950s.

He says they are nearly 70 to 80 years old. For Gladewater, Tow says the February 2021 winter storm is what exposed many problems within their system and they’ve been working to repair them ever since.

“For us we’ve been trying to finish up a lot of stuff in the past 2 years past 24 months. We’ve done a lot of work at the water plant. We’ve completed about 1.2 million in modifications just this last year,” said Tow.

The City of Gladewater is hoping to have things fully repaired and replaced by January 2023, but Marshall doesn’t have the money they need to fix their system. However, Powell adds that even if the city received funding to replace the old pipes, there would still be problems.

“Well ultimately, the best way to fix it is to replace all the pipes we have, but that is something no budget can support. You’re never going to have enough money for that. Even with new piping, you’re going to suffer breaks,” said Powell. “Because the way the ground moves, sometimes it’s manufacturing issues, sometimes it’s not put together right in the ground. So I don’t think you can ever truly eliminate the need for it because somethings always going to occur.”

How can cities prevent this problem?

Experts say the best thing cities can do is to have a plan, replace old water mains and upgrade the systems, valves and hydrants, which will help prevent a possible break.

For residents that don’t want to boil their water or don’t have time, here are a few options:

  • Use bottled water for drinking, ice making, pets, cooking and brushing your teeth
  • Use sanitizer to cleanse your hands
  • Use disposable plates, cups and silverware instead of dishes

For plants, laundry and bathing, it’s safe to use tap water, but experts recommend sponge baths for infants.

Check with KETK for the latest information on boil water notices in the East Texas area.