By Larry Causey
FME News Services
TEMPLE — Until further notice, no one in Temple is supposed to be using city water for any reason — not for drinking, showering, washing the dishes or anything else, said Shannon Gowan, director of communications for the City of Temple.
A power transformer at the Temple Water Treatment Plant was damaged by lightning about 10 p.m. Saturday night, and this eventually caused a failure in the water system, said City Manager David Blackburn.
Although Oncor replaced the transformer by 10 a.m. Sunday, the citizens of Temple still need to allow the complex water system to recover, Gannon said. Continuing to draw water would slow down that process.
A boil water notice issued at noon Sunday remains in effect. The boil notice took into consideration those people who drew water before learning of the water restriction, she said. People might have drawn water that looked clear and thought it was safe to drink. But when there is a system-wide drop in water pressure, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality requires the city to issue a boil water notification.
"To ensure destruction of all harmful bacteria and other microbes, water for drinking, cooking and ice making should be boiled and cooled prior to consumption," she said. "The water should be brought to a vigorous rolling boil and then boiled for two minutes."
The city of Temple issued a declaration of disaster about 8:40 a.m. Sunday, and ordered the closing of all businesses and commercial operations. Exceptions were fueling stations, grocery/convenience stores and health care related operations.
Churches also were allowed to stay open, and the Temple Police Department used churches Sunday morning to notify people of the water restrictions. A reverse 911 call also was made to inform the city's 22,000 residential water customers.
At 3 p.m. the city amended the declaration to allow for the opening of business and commercial operations, on the condition that they do not use the city's water or wastewater system.
"We still have an emergency situation in place," Blackburn said at a 4:45 p.m. news conference. "I don't know if we've ever had this kind of failure. I've been here eight years and we haven't during that time. Our plant manager has been here for 30 years. I don't think we've seen anything like that."
Asked when the situation would be resolved, he said he might have an answer Sunday night.
Blackburn said the city began the process of putting in a backup generator system two years ago, and has spent more than $2 million on it.
It requires redesigning the water treatment plant, and there is still more work to do on it, he said.
Nicole Torralva, public works director, said the process of bringing the water system back into line is complicated.
"Basically it includes refilling the tanks and pressurizing the system," she said. "But it also includes troubleshooting, checking electrical, assessing water quality, adjusting chemicals and treating water with the correct quantity of chemicals."
It also includes testing the water and running it through various processes, such as clarifiers and filters. Then the water must be disinfected, sent to storage and pumped to the system.
The city has 11 elevated storage tanks and four ground storage tanks, she said, with a storage volume of 24.65 million gallons. In the summer, the system may pump up to 30 million gallons a day. She said the system can treat up to 35 million gallons a day.
Johnny Reisner, plant manager, was at the water treatment plant on Sunday afternoon. He referred all questions to Thomas Pechal, public information officer for Temple Fire and Rescue. In addition to the 29 firefighters already on duty, 33 off-duty personnel and 18 members of the Community Emergency Response Team were called in, Pechal said. He said the main concern for firefighters was having enough water in case of a fire. Temple called in several water tanker fire engines from neighboring volunteer fire departments, with additional tankers on standby.
Sgt. Brad Hunt, spokesman for the Temple Police Department, said dozens of extra police officers were on the streets for many hours throughout the day.
"One of the primary functions was to patrol businesses and residences," he said, to ensure compliance with the water restrictions. "I'm happy to say we did not have to cite anyone," he said.