Landgraf offers aid in water woes

Odessa Water Distribution employees work through the night as they attempt to repair a broken water main on June 14, 2022, in Odessa. (OA File Photo)
State Rep. Brooks Landgraf

State Rep. Brooks Landgraf (R-Odessa) discussed available state funding assistance for city water infrastructure with officials from the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) this week following recent water outages in Odessa.

“In light of Odessans again being left without water, I want to step in and make sure that TWDB is aware of our situation, and that local leaders are aware of what state funding mechanisms might be available to assist the City of Odessa in repairing and replacing aging water pipelines,” Landgraf said.

Although water infrastructure is a municipal matter, TWDB Chairwoman Brooke Paup indicated that cities can be eligible for assistance through three state funding options: State Revolving Funds (SRFs); the SWIFT Fund; and the Development Fund, which is primarily used for emergency projects. The agency offered to meet with the city to go over the most suitable funding mechanism for Odessa’s needs.

“I appreciate Chairwoman Paup and the staff at the development board for prioritizing Odessans today,” Landgraf continued. “I have and will continue to support innovative solutions to offer state financing options that will meet the state’s long-term water needs while still protecting Texas taxpayers. As state representative, I’ll do everything I can to help Odessa get the resources it needs to fix the pipes and ensure we always remain the heartbeat of the Permian Basin.”

In 2023, Landgraf sponsored Proposition 6, an initiative allocating $1 billion to the Texas Water Fund, a critical investment in addressing Texas water needs. This fund, administered by the Texas Water Development Board, will provide financing for essential water projects, from supply development to infrastructure repair.

With this significant infusion of funding, communities across Texas will have the resources needed to modernize aging and dilapidated water systems, enhance conservation efforts, and bolster resilience against drought and other water-related challenges.

Odessans are well aware of water-related challenges after a rough week in terms of water issues with several boil water notices, outages and water that had low to no pressure.

A May 11 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. A 24-hour boil water notice was issued after pressure dropped below 20 psi. (Courtesy Photo)

A May 11 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 over last weekend.

That particular break cost Odessa more than just a loss of water. Texas’ leading economist Ray Perryman said his group used a model of the Odessa economy and prior analysis of various outages around the country to respond to an OA question about the economics of the water outage. “It appears that the overall loss was approximately $4.1 million. The direct losses were concentrated in retail outlets and restaurants, although some spilled over to other sectors and households,” Perryman said via email.

Meanwhile, 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. Another boil water was issued Monday for north Odessa.

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)

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.

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.

On Tuesday 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.