‘It smells like sewage’: South Harris County residents plagued by weeks of smelly water

HOUSTON – Fire hydrants were flowing freely all over the Brunswick Meadows subdivision on Monday, but it wasn’t an attempt to cool off in the hot summer temperatures, it was an effort to flush out funky-smelling water.

It was the second time crews from Si Environmental were in the neighborhood turning hydrants on and off, after complaints from residents about the water having an unusual odor and taste. Residents said the flushing didn’t help last time and were skeptical whether it would change anything this time.

“It smells like straight-up sewage,” Chasity Thomas said. “It smells so bad when I’m running water in my bathroom it has my entire living room, which is about 200 feet away, smelling horrible. I’m having to go to the laundromat to wash clothes I’m having to go to family members to take a bath I’m having to use bottled water for things I normally do with the water that I pay monthly for.”

Residents told KPRC 2 it’s been an ongoing issue since the February freeze but got worse in the last three weeks.

“We were cooking and using the water, didn’t think about it, and after we finished cooking the food smelled weird, so we had to throw it away,” Tobin Tran said.

Harris County Water Control and Improvement District 89, which manages the area and Si Environmental which operates the system told KPRC2 the change in odor and taste of the water was due to a buildup of biofilm, a slimy layer of bacteria, in the surface water line which comes from the city of Houston.

“We know that it’s very difficult when you have water that smells unpleasant. TCEQ (Texas Commission on Environmental Quality) has tested it and they say yes, it is safe to use,” said Sharyn Smalls, president and general manager of WCID 89.

In a statement to KPRC 2, TCEQ wrote the following:

“The TCEQ Houston Region Office received 19 complaints between July 12 and July 26, 2021, primarily alleging color and odor concerns from Harris County WCID 89. The TCEQ conducted an investigation on July 23, 2021, and collected samples. The testing laboratory’s preliminary results for the presence of total coliform and E. coli were negative, but the investigation is ongoing.”

WCID 89 uses a combination of surface water and well water. They have temporarily shut down the city of Houston surface water line and will be on well water for the next few weeks.

Erin Jones, a spokesperson for the City of Houston Public Works told KPRC 2 “the issue is not on our end.”

“The process should be cleaned up by the end of the week, but we’re going to keep this situation going on for at least three weeks to make sure everything is really good, lines are clear. We’ll assess the situation after week two and go from there,” said Michael Thornhill, director of compliance at Si Environmental.

Thornhill said customers should notice an improvement in water quality in the next few days.


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