Report shows aging Houston water plants require multimillion-dollar upgrades, replacements

HOUSTON – The water purification plant that lost power, forcing a citywide boil order, requires multimillion-dollar upgrades and replacements due to poor conditions, according to an engineering report obtained by KPRC 2 Investigates.

The East Water Purification Plant (EWPP) operates three plants serving roughly two million customers in the Houston area.

A condition and assessment report compiled by AECOM Technical Services, Inc. for the city of Houston identified significant issues to the EWPP, specifically to plants 1 and 2. The report was published in October 2021.

However, the report does not indicate concerns about imminent failures at any of the plants at EWPP. It is also unclear if any of the issues in the report are related to the power failure on Nov. 27.

“The report doesn’t say that if you don’t fix it by next week, the following week something is going to happen,” said Mayor Sylvester Turner in response to questions from KPRC 2 Investigates. “It doesn’t say that and if it did, then we should address it.”

According to the report, the two oldest plants are “increasingly labor intensive to operate” and that more than half of the plants’ assets would need to be replaced within the next five years.

Overall, AECOM rated the conditions of 85% of assets at Plants 1 and 2 as performing moderately to very poorly.

AECOM recommended two courses of action: rehabilitate and continue operations of all three plants or decommission the older two plants and expand the newer Plant 3. The recommendations would involve a Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) involving multiple projects estimated to cost more than $1.1 billion.

Specifically, AECOM estimates roughly $47 million to rehabilitate the three plants, including the most urgent and high-priority assets in need of “near-term (0-5 years) attention.”

However, the city’s top financial officer, Controller Chris Brown, says there currently is not enough funding to cover the entire project.

“Less than half that is available in the current CIP slot, but there are some opportunities in the future with federal funding and other sources of revenue we can probably tap to be able to address this problem,” said Brown.

Houston Public Works issued two requests for qualifications (RFQ) since the report was released last year.

The first one focuses on the EWPP mechanical and electrical improvements. The city is currently negotiating with consultants before going to the council for action.

A spokesperson for the department told KPRC 2 Investigates that the plan is to address the most urgent needs of the water plant due to the high cost of the work as identified in the AECOM plan.

The second RFQ was issued on November 16. Bids are due on Jan. 6, 2023.

Power Failure, Boil Water Order

The city issued a water boil order on Nov. 27 after a main transformer and the backup went offline that morning.

RELATED: Boil water notice issued for the entire City of Houston after water pressure dropped due to power outage; City of Bellaire has since rescinded order

Although power was restored an hour and a half later, water pressure had dropped to critical levels, requiring the order for the entire city. Other cities followed suit as a precaution.

The city lifted the boil water order more than 24 hours later after Mayor Sylvester Turner said water test results came back clean.

About the Authors:

Journalistic bulldog focused on accountability and how government is spending your dollars. Husband to Wonder Woman, father to a pitcher and two Cavapoos. Prefers queso over salsa.

Award winning investigative journalist who joined KPRC 2 in July 2000. Husband and father of the Master of Disaster and Chaos Gremlin. “I don’t drink coffee to wake up, I wake up to drink coffee.”