DRAINED: Neighbors still dealing with brown water despite a new plan to fix the problem

State approved city of Houston plan; No start date yet

HOUSTON – Dirty, brown, and sludgy water is leaving homeowners in northeast Houston “DRAINED.” When KPRC 2 Investigates tested rust-colored water coming from the taps, we found 548 times the amount of iron allowed by state standards. The city and state both told KPRC 2 Investigator Amy Davis they were looking into the problem. We wanted to check back to see what has happened since November.

Our investigation into brown water reports got state inspectors involved

The state did send its own inspectors to test the water after our report and the city asked state regulators if it could put an additive in the water to try and fix the problem. The state gave approval but so far, there’s no start date yet. Shereece Anderson is drained. She and her neighbors are tired of spending money.

KPRC 2 Investigates water bill issues in the Houston area. People living in Saddle Creek Farms say the water from the City of Houston is brown and gross. (Copyright 2021 by KPRC Click2Houston - All rights reserved.)

“I’m still having to buy gallons and gallons. I don’t let people come over and drink my tap water,” said Anderson.

She’s also tired of waiting for the City of Houston to do something about the brown water coming through its pipes and into her home.

“Somebody help us. What’s it going to take?”

We told you in November that she and other homeowners have paid thousands of dollars for home filtration systems to keep most of this out of their taps. But still when they fill up their bathtubs their swimming pools and their glasses. They never know what they’re going to get.

“This has taken longer than it should, taking longer than we would like it to,” said Public Works Director Carol Haddock in a November 2022 interview.

Shereece Anderson has not heard from anybody.

“Nobody has reached out to me. I’ve made attempts I’ve sent an email to carol herself.” she said.

KPRC 2 Investigates test results showed high iron in water

Just to refresh your memory, the city, state and an independent lab told KPRC 2 Investigates the murky water is caused by very high concentrations of iron. It is naturally occurring and invisible until there’s so much of it in your water that it can’t dissolve.

KPRC 2 Investigates water bill issues in the Houston area. Test results show what is in the water from one neighborhood where people have been dealing with brown water for years. (Copyright 2021 by KPRC Click2Houston - All rights reserved.)

When we reported the high levels of iron in the water to the state, it sent inspectors to Saddle Creek to run its own tests. Hours before the state showed up, Anderson spotted three crews flushing their hydrants. The employee from Inframark, the company contracted by the city, explained to Anderson why they were sent there. He said the flushing was supposed to be a weekly thing.

Even after flushing the lines the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality found discolored water above the maximum contaminant level in two of the four hydrants, it tested. It sent this violation notice to the city, which the city resolved by sending the state a picture of clear water coming from the hydrants a month later. The only noticeable changes here in Saddle Creek Farms are red boxes that the City of Houston installed on several hydrants. The boxes flush the hydrants up to twice a week.

'DRAINED' KPRC 2 Investigation looks into issues customers are having with City of Houston water bills. (Copyright 2023 by KPRC Click2Houston - All rights reserved.)

“Their plan is to flush out our lines and I’m sorry, I feel like that’s just a band-aid method.”

The state approved Houston’s request to put an additive in the water here that would minimize the discoloration. When we asked the city why they haven’t started putting that additive in the water yet, they told us they now also want to try installing an in-line filtration system to the Saddle Creek Area. They say a consultant is now working on a request to the state to also try this to see if it helps Anderson and her nearly 15,000 neighbors get the clear water they’re all paying for.

KPRC 2 Investigates people still dealing with brown water in one neighborhood. (Copyright 2023 by KPRC Click2Houston - All rights reserved.)

The city said they expect to submit the request to the state in a few weeks. We will follow up and let you know what’s next.

This is just one of several neighborhoods we are visiting this week as we try to help people who are dealing with water bill issues. Let us know if you have a problem you haven’t been able to resolve on your own.

Full statements from a City of Houston spokesperson regarding brown water in neighborhood

“Amy, as you mentioned, TCEQ approved the pilot study that would place an additive to the water to help with discoloration that exists due to the natural mineral content of the source water. Due to the level of discoloration already existing in the water system, particularly concentrated in the Saddle Creek Farms area, Houston Water and their Consultant have recently determined that the success of the pilot study will be significantly enhanced with an in-line filtration pilot project in advance of the additive pilot project. The city’s Consultant will shortly be authorized to work with TCEQ to add this additional study to the overall actions for the Saddle Creek Farms area. Until that approval is granted by TCEQ, we are continuing to provide increased flushing in Saddle Creek Farms to minimize occurrences of discolored water. We believe the combination of the two pilot studies will help us provide a long-term solution to the discolored water in Saddle Creek Farms.”

Question: Is it true that the city is no longer allowing any new homes to tap into the city lines in the Saddle Creek Farms subdivision? If so, please explain why.

“The Saddle Creek Farms subdivision is part of a larger public water supply system known as District 73. Development in the District 73 service area is progressing at a much faster rate than was anticipated by the City, which has led to a temporary hold on new service connections while the City works with TCEQ and the developers in the area to finalize a comprehensive water system expansion plan to support ongoing development.”

Question: When does the city plan to submit any additional work for the TCEQ to consider for approval?

“The City met with TCEQ to discuss the proposed additional pilot study technology on January 10, 2023 and shortly thereafter formally engaged a consultant to prepare and submit the pilot study proposal to TCEQ. The consultant is diligently working with the pilot study equipment vendor and TCEQ to complete the application, which we expect to be submitted in the next few weeks. The City has expressed to both TCEQ and its consultant its desire to move expeditiously through this process so that work can begin in this area as soon as possible.”

About the Authors:

Passionate consumer advocate, mom of 3, addicted to coffee, hairspray and pastries.

Award-winning TV producer and content creator. My goal as a journalist is to help people. Faith and family motivate me. Running keeps me sane.