Inspection reports show electrical problems at city water plant

HOUSTON – Inspection reports for the city of Houston’s East Water Purification Plant show problems with various electrical components at the facility.

Copies of the reports were obtained from a Texas Public Information Act request.

A Nov. 27 power outage at the facility caused a drop in water pressure and led to a boil water notice for the entire city of Houston.

Mayor Sylvester Turner later said a city-owned transformer and backup transformer at the plant failed.

City officials said they are still researching exactly what led to the failure.

Copies of inspection reports completed by Sabre Power and dated Oct. 13 showed monthly inspections of one transformer had “acceptable” test results. The comment section of the report did note, “internal lighting circuit is faulty,” and “2 defective fans.”

An inspection report for another transformer on the same date also noted: “lighting circuit is faulty.” Officials with the Public Works Department said the two fans were only two of 24 used to keep equipment cool and that replacement fans were ordered this month. City officials also told KPRC 2 that the “faulty” lighting circuit dealt with room lighting.

Other inspection reports from 2022 showed deficiencies involving “current reading on ground” in different areas of the facility, along with comments noting “Breaker is open. Disconnected. No relay in case.”

City officials said none of the issues listed in the October dated report led to the November outage and added “Houston Public Works corrects inspection issues immediately unless there are operational or supply chain issues that delay the response. The deficiencies noted have been addressed.”

“The internal and third-party investigations into the November 27th incident that led to a boil water notice are still ongoing,” a Public Works spokesperson wrote in an email to KPRC 2.

An inspection report from June 2021 showed technicians were called out because an “old liquid-filled transformer had caught fire,” and was not salvageable. Another report for an inspection done the following month reported under the heading “Relay Protection Coordination,” noted, “It is highly recommended that the City of Houston have a coordination study done by Saber Engineering or another organization for the proper relay settings. It appears that there are many issues with protection settings that are currently in place, which is making the equipment more dangerous.”

The same report noted loose wires causing overheating in one cubicle and recommended repainting one of the transformers because “rust beginning to form on top and around the transformer.”

A February 2021 inspection was done to investigate the “fault on a 5kV motor starter.” Inspectors determined the cause of the fault was a rat inside the equipment.

Some of the issues noted in these inspection reports coincide with an AECOM study commissioned by the city that recommends hundreds of millions of dollars in upgrades and repairs throughout the city.

Public Works officials said the city is in the process of securing contracts to address the most critical needs listed in the study.

About the Author:

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.”