City needs to avoid losing water again

By the Advocate Editorial Board
Nov. 18, 2017 at 4:42 p.m.
Updated Nov. 19, 2017 at 6 a.m.

When the city lost water pressure after Hurricane Harvey hit, Victoria had almost zero defense against a fire.

That meant downtown could have burned to the ground when power was restored there about 6 p.m. the day after Harvey hit. Fires are common from power surges after an outage. The Victoria Fire Department reported calls more than doubled as power was restored days later for the rest of the city.

By then, the city had restored pressure to its water system, and the fire department was able to adequately respond to calls. Fortunately, no fire erupted in the parts of downtown where power was restored first.

The city is analyzing how it can better back up its water system in the event of another widespread power outage. That's an important step in the right direction of making Victoria better prepared for the next disaster.

Although city staffers initially said the cost was too great, they now recommend generators be placed at the raw water pump station, the surface water treatment plant and one distribution pump station. These generators could keep power flowing to the system.

Generators of the size required aren't cheap, of course. The raw water pump station also sits in a floodplain, so any backup plan has to factor in this challenge, too.

City Council member Jeff Bauknight argues this is an essential service Victoria must harden. The costs for doing so should be rated high on any list of capital projects. Of course, the city should push for grants or reimbursements from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Texas Water Development Board.

Bauknight suggested one way the city could recoup some of the costs for generators is to work out a deal with the utility company. AEP and other providers will offer a better rate for large users with backup generators that can be switched on during peak usage during the hot summer months. These savings could be applied toward the cost of generators.

A related option would be for the city to be ready to move more quickly to using well water instead of river water. The city also could incur significant expenses for this approach.

Staff will come back to the City Council soon with a proposal. Ultimately, council members always have to weigh the costs versus the benefits of any project.

John Tracy, the director of the Texas Water Resources Institute at Texas A&M University, said backup generators would seem to make sense for Victoria.

"When your ability to deliver water goes out for a few hours, most people can make it through that with a little inconvenience, but for as long as Victoria's water system was out, there were some serious costs that come along with that," Tracy said. "I'm not really sure how much the generators would cost, but it seems like it's entirely within the realm of possibility that they would pay for themselves."

Harvey, the worst storm to hit this part of the Gulf Coast since 1961, is teaching Victoria and neighboring towns some hard lessons. The city is taking the right steps to learn this one.

This opinion reflects the views of the Victoria Advocate's editorial board.


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