HOUSTON – Drained. That’s how Houston water customers said they feel after trying to get help from the city of Houston. They want explanations about inaccurate meter reads, huge water bills, and now dirty, murky water. KPRC 2 Investigates continues this search for answers with homeowners who say the city of Houston is failing their families.
Residents say they’ve tried everything to get help for gross water
Shereece Anderson and her husband built their dream home on Houston’s northeast side in Saddle Creek Farms. Homes sit on huge lots in a picturesque subdivision. It’s everything Anderson wanted for her family of five, except one thing.
“We just want regular water. We want safe water,” said Anderson. “Clear water?” asked Investigator Amy Davis. “Clear water, yes,” Anderson replied.
Instead, she and her neighbors are getting brown, murky, rusty-looking water when they fill up their bathtubs, their swimming pools, and their glasses.
“You may have brown water. You may not today. And if you don’t have it today, then you’re definitely going to have it at the end of the week. You know it’s that frequent now,” she said.
Why has it been so hard for people to get help?
Davis spent the day with several families in the neighborhood. All of them say they have called and reported the gross water to the city. Each time they call they say the city sends crews from the private company Inframark to flush the hydrants. This method is used to clear up the water for a month or so but the brown stuff back so often that some homeowners have invested thousands of dollars in whole-house filtration systems (to filter the sludgy water before it flows into their homes).
“Once per year is all I’m supposed to have to change this per the manufacturer of the filter,” said homeowner Blake Anderson.
But families here are changing the pricy filters far more often to keep their water running clear. Take a look at the picture below. The filter on the left is brand new bright white. The picture on the right is what the filter looks like after just two months.
“If anyone tries to tell us that this is normal.. we’re not buying it,” said Anderson.
Water from the sprinkler system has stained the stucco on their homes. The towels and bedding from their washing machines are also brown.
And when Crystal Lovelace filled her brand new pool in May it looked like a swamp. She called 3-1-1 and a crew came again to flush the hydrants.
“They didn’t have an answer. They just said it was it is what it is basically and there’s nothing that we could do about it,” said Lovelace.
Emails to public works, their council member, and state regulators have gone nowhere.
“There are no answers and they have just stopped responding,” said Maci Gansky.
To get answers we took a sample of the water to the Envirodyne laboratory for testing.
“My first reaction was, ‘wow’ because I’ve been doing this awhile and I hadn’t seen iron quite that bad,” said water expert Tanny Busby.
Water expert Tanny Busby said iron is naturally occurring in water. It’s not harmful to your health and you can’t see it until the levels get so high that it can’t be dissolved.
The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality says drinking water shouldn’t have more than .3 milligrams of iron per liter. But the Saddle Creek Farms sample had 164 milligrams per liter. That’s 548 times more than state standards allow. Busby said it’s likely the build-up is not from the water source but more likely the city’s distribution system.
Water test results
TCEQ IRON TEST THRESHOLD = .3 milligrams per liter
SADDLE CREEK FARMS WATER RESULTS = 164 milligrams per liter
“That’s all the piping, the hydrants, this type of thing. The water has been sitting there for a period of time. That’s where it translates and gets into the water,” said Busby.
And again while iron is not a health issue it can and has damaged appliances in the community.
“Plumbing fixtures, hot water heaters, yes, it will upset that and shorten the life.”
What do city leaders have to say about the water quality?
“They wanted to know if you’d like to come to have a glass of water,” Investigator Amy Davis asked Houston Public Works Director Carol Haddock.
“So I’m happy to go to any part of the city of Houston and sit down and meet with residents and I’m not afraid of our water system,” said Haddock.
Carol Haddock is the Director of Houston Public Works, which oversees the water department.
What is being done about the brown water concerns for the community?
City officials tell KPRC 2 Investigates they have received 60 complaints about water from people who live in Saddle Creek Farms over the last 5 years. They said a consultant has recommended a pilot study in the coming months to put an additive in the water that should minimize occurrences of discolored water.
On October 27th a city spokesperson wrote, “Houston water submitted plans for the pilot study to the TCEQ. TCEQ says they will review the proposal within 60 days.”
TCEQ told us, “On November 1, 2022, a representative for the city of Houston formally submitted their proposed pilot test.”
And when we gave our test results to the state it sent inspectors to Saddle Creek to collect its own samples. Hours before, Anderson spotted three crews flushing their hydrants again. An employee from Inframark explained to Anderson that flushing the system was supposed to be a weekly thing.
“This has taken longer than it should take longer than we would like it to. We are committed to getting to addressing this for our neighbors, we don’t believe that anybody should have anything less than superior water, which is what our water system rating is,” said Haddock.
A TCEQ Spokesperson told KPRC 2 Investigates the Houston region office conducted an investigation of the Saddle Creek Farms system on November 4, 2022. They said the investigation is ongoing. Separately, they said TCEQ will respond to the city’s request to start that pilot study by December 31st. We will stay on top of both of these issues and bring you updates.
How to report issues with your water
You can report any water concerns (including strange colors) to Houston 311 (713-837-0311), email firstname.lastname@example.org, visit houstontx.gov/311, or through the Houston 311 app. A water quality service request will be issued.
You can also report water issues to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. TCEQ Water Supply Division: 512-239-4691 or email@example.com. For complaints about your drinking water quality or other environmental issues:
- Use this online form
- Call the 24-hour toll-free Environmental Complaints Hotline at 1-888-777-3186
- Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org
SEE MORE: ‘DRAINED’ Investigative Series:
- Hear from one man who lived without water for FOUR years after he was unable to pay an unusually high water bill.
- Meet a family who has been dealing with irregular bills and a wonky water meter.
- See where in Houston people are paying the most for their water bills.
- In this week’s Ask Amy episode, you can hear more from Public Works Director Carol Haddock about why some meters are wrong and what’s being done to fix the problem. We’ve got it all wrapped up in this article!