A water boil order was issued in Houston, TX, this week. A power outage at a purification plant prompted the mayor to initiate an investigation. The boil order tells customers to boil their water before using it for cooking, bath, or drinking. Multiple Houston-area public and private schools, as well as some local colleges, were closed Monday as a result of the notice. Unfortunately, water infrastructure and quality have been a significant issue in cities large and small throughout the U.S.

The notice was issued last weekend just hours after two transformers failed. Furthermore, there was no indication the water system had been contaminated. According to Mayor Turner, water quality testing is underway. He expects the notice to be lifted this week once the state’s environmental agency gives an all-clear report.

“We are optimistic the results will come back clean,” Turner said.

Who Does the Water Boil Order Affect?

The water boil issue affects all of Houston and multiple adjacent areas. The problem affected the plant’s ability to treat and pump water into the transmission system, resulting in low water pressure. Because the issue was within the plant’s system, backup power generators would not have made a difference, Turner said. Since the transformers were down, they couldn’t transmit power to the plant.

Turner said that sixteen sensors marked dips under the minimum pressure levels required by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality — 14 for only 2 minutes and two for nearly 30 minutes. Usually, there is enough water pressure to flow out of leaky pipes. However, when pressure is lost, contamination, like bacteria sitting near pipes, can be sucked into the system. Thus, creating a significant health risk. After a water pressure loss, the potentially contaminated water is flushed out of pipes and faucets. If tests for contamination are negative, the boil water notice can be lifted.

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