That was the experience city residents awoke to last December, and since then Beeville’s director of public works, Cesario Vela, has been taking steps to see that it does not happen again.
The city’s utility department has been making improvements in town and at the Beeville Water Supply District’s George P. Morrill, I Water Treatment Plant at Swinney Switch to make sure the city maintains a dependable supply of water.
This week, plant superintendent Michael Lentz demonstrated some of the improvements.
One of the most important developments was the installation of an automatic shutdown device connected to the turbidity monitoring system.
Lent said the device keeps track of the turbidity of water being sent from the plant to Beeville, and if the level of that turbidity reaches a certain point, the plant shuts down until the problem can be corrected.
“Turbidity levels are low right now,” Lentz said. He credited some of that with the level of water in Lake Corpus Christi. The lake still is nearly full after rains in the Hill County filled the Nueces River a few months back.
What happens when the equipment kicks in is that the pumps sending water to the second pumping station, at Clareville, shut down, along with the chemical feeds that treat the water from the lake.
The pump at the district’s raw water intake structure must be turned off manually, but that can be done at the plant.
“It’s usually just one pump,” Lentz said of the raw water intake system.
The district also has installed a new chlorine analyzer to keep track of that additive in the water. Chlorine residual is an important factor in keeping treated water from developing bacteria after it is pumped from the plant.
Lentz said those improvements, all recommended by the staff of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, only cost the district somewhere between $2,000 and $2,500.
The most important improvements came in staffing the operation, Lentz said. Two new employees at the plant have been training and are about to be tested for their basic licenses.
One of the problems cited by the TCEQ after December water loss was a lack of licensed operators.
“I’m sending my staff to school so they can get their licenses,” Lentz said. He said two men working there are about to be tested for their B licenses. That will put them at one level above the minimum requirement of a C license.
“We’re working on salaries,” Lentz said. One of the problems involved in the December water outage was the city’s ability to keep licensed and experienced employees at the plant.
That all went back to pay levels for those employees. Whenever an employee would pass his test and get a higher-level license, he could usually find a better-paying job elsewhere.
“We’re competing with the whole state,” Lentz said, and that makes salaries especially important when other cities are always seeking licensed operators.
However, the staffing situation has improved greatly.
“We’ve got a better team here now,” Lentz said.
Another problem has been an overflowing holding tank. TCEQ officials have cited the plant for that problem whenever the tank overflows and water runs out of the property.
Lentz said he is having a pump installed that will send overflowing water from the holding tank up the hill to the drying beds where it can be allowed to evaporate.
“The plant was state-of-the-art when it was built,” Lentz said. “Now it’s 30-plus years old.”
The upgrades are necessary. Some of those include an improved chemical feeding system to treat the water. And the plant made some changes in the type of polymer that creates a heavier floc in the two clarifiers.
The polymers react with alum to attract suspended and dissolved solids in the water and create a whitish substance called “floc.”
The floc formed before had a tendency to remain suspended in the clarifiers longer than it should have. But with the newly tweaked polymers, the floc has become heavier and drops to the bottom of the tanks more quickly.
The clear water at the top of the clarifiers is skimmed off and sent on to be treated and pumped to Clareville for the final trip to storage tanks in Beeville.
To ensure that only the best quality water is pumped from the plant, Lentz said the staff tests the water every four hours to look for clarity, chlorine residual and other factors.
The testing is done, even though automatic meters installed at the plant constantly look for problems with the treated water.
City Council members said at their meeting last Tuesday that they have been receiving compliments on the quality of the water residents see at their faucets these days.
Still, Lentz said the city is doing what it can to improve the water quality even more.
One of the steps underway now is the flushing of the system to reduce any substances that could be picked up by the water in the pipelines.
Also, the plant is trying to improve the chlorine residuals in the water that has already arrived in the city.
Gary Kent is a reporter at the Bee-Picayune and can be reached at 358-2550, ext. 120, or at reporter@mySouTex.com.