Council takes some action on water issues

The repair site for a broken water main sits empty after crews completed work on the pipe at approximately 3:45 a.m. Wednesday morning, June 15, 2022, in Odessa. (Odessa American File Photo)

Saturday’s water line break resulted in the loss of 28 million gallons of water because 19 valves meant to help crews shut down water to isolate leaks were stuck in the open position, Odessa City Manager John Beckmeyer said during Tuesday night’s city council meeting.

Crews had five different pumps pulling water out of the hole where the leak was to try to keep up with the rushing water and when that didn’t work they had to open up fire hydrants, he said. That led to the loss of pressure, crews having to shut off water for the entire city and the mandatory boil water notice.

What happened was completely unacceptable, Beckmeyer said.

That being the case, Beckmeyer told the council he wants to hire a contractor to locate the thousands of valves located along the hundreds of miles of city pipes, exercise them and then replace those that need to be.

Once the contractor has completed the vast majority of the work, Beckmeyer said he wants Utilities Director Kevin Niles to hire at least two entry-level employees to exercise the valves on a regular basis.

Beckmeyer said he has no clue how much his idea will cost, but something has to be done.

The city council gave staff the go-ahead to find a contractor and Beckmeyer expects to present a contract to council members during their May 28 meeting.

A 24-hour boil water notice was issued Saturday after pressure dropped below 20 psi.

It was the second time in two years the city has had to shut off water for the entire city. In June 2022, another water line break and broken valves resulted in the loss of 10-15 million gallons of water and resulted in Odessans going without drinkable water for the better part of a week.

At that time, officials said many of the city’s water lines were more than 60 years old and 60% of them are made of cast iron or other iron-based materials prone to erosion and calcium build up.

Mayor Javier Joven said Saturday on Facebook that the city’s water infrastructure has been neglected for more than a decade.

Back in 2022, city officials said that under the city’s 2019 Master Plan, crews are expected to systemically replace the older pipes with those made of PVC, fiberglass or high density polyethylene, but officials said it was a costly process that would take more than 100 years given the hundreds of miles of existing pipes.

City officials also said in 2022 a priority list had been developed to replace the lines based on the number of breaks each has had.

In FY21-22, $6 million had been set aside for the repair and maintenance of the city’s water and sewer lines and more than $600,000 of it was used to pay for the June 2022 incident.

City Councilmember Steve Thompson also pitched an idea Tuesday on how to fund at least a portion of the city’s water infrastructure needs.

He said the Odessa Development Corporation receives more than $1 million a month in sales tax and $1.5 million annually in interest earnings. Right now, he said the ODC has $80 million in non-committed funds in the bank and lawyers he has consulted with believe the city can use those funds to float revenue bonds.

The city council expressed interest in researching the issue further especially because ODC President Kris Crow and Vice President Jeff Russell have said in the past they do not believe economic development money can be used for roads and water infrastructure.

Water flows between layers of asphalt and concrete as it drains into a pit where City of Odessa Water Distribution crews work to repair a damaged water main Tuesday, June 14, 2022, near the intersection of 42nd Street and San Jacinto Street. (Odessa American/Eli Hartman)

Thompson also said he recently learned the state water board may be able to assist the city.

“There are no easy answers,” Beckmeyer said. “I appreciate Councilman Thompson for broaching this one and it’s something we need to consider. It always could be a shell game, too. We need to spend money here that does qualify and we spend some of this money there and move money over. It’s a first-step and a conversation.”

In other action, the city council gave Niles permission to take steps to get a 24-inch ductile iron sewage pipe on West Second Street replaced.

According to Niles, over 1,000 feet of pipe in the 3200 block is at risk of failing completely and causing a public health issue.

Niles received permission to skip the bid process and prepare a contract with Carollo Engineers to design the project for $375,000 and remove and replace that portion of the line. All told, the project could cost around $1.3 million and will take about seven months.

“If we don’t replace this we’re going to have a public calamity on our hands with sewage everywhere so we need to replace it as soon as possible,” said City Attorney Dan Jones.

He said he’ll have the contract ready by the May 28 meeting.

The council was supposed to hear recommendations from two companies about addressing the failing Bob Derrington wastewater treatment plant, but Beckmeyer asked to table those presentations because he thought it might be improper to hear from two competing companies during the same meeting.

Jones will be looking into the legalities regarding that.

Mayor Javier Joven also asked the council to mull over placing a charter amendment on November’s ballot. He’d like to limit the total amount of time one person can serve on the council in any capacity to 12 years. Right now, someone can serve eight years as a council member plus eight years as mayor.

Joven said the current rules, which were adopted in 2004, could result in “musical chairs.”