Report reveals preliminary cause of city water plant power outage

HOUSTON – Officials with the City of Houston’s Mayor’s Office released documents showing a preliminary cause to last November’s power outage at the East Houston Water Purification Plant.

The outage prompted a boil water notice for 2.2 million people in the Houston area.

The city had Saber Power Services conduct an investigation into the outage. This is the same company that has performed inspections of the water plant’s electrical systems. A report released by the mayor’s office to KPRC 2 Investigates reads a fault in a high-voltage cable caused circuit breakers to trip and shut off power to the city-owned transformer powering the facility. The report further reads the electrical system was not set up to reroute power around a problem.

“Due to the design of these switchgear configurations, the system prevents switching load from one bus to the other without taking a power outage,” the report reads.

Saber’s report further notes, “This is not economical for performing electrical maintenance in order to prevent incidents like this one from happening. A properly designed system will allow any electrical circuit to be removed from service that has a parallel source without ever losing power to the load, and will also restore service automatically from another source if power is lost.”

Saber’s report did say that the system does have most of the components needed to make this upgrade with a “major reconstruction.”

KPRC 2 Investigates reported last December that the East Water Purification Plant has a lengthy history of electrical problems, uncovered during inspections. Public Works officials told KPRC 2 Investigates in December, all deficiencies found during inspections are immediately addressed. A study commissioned by the city last October also noted hundreds of millions of dollars in upgrades are needed at the facility.

An email between Public Works Director Carol Haddock and deputy director Yvonne Forrest shows repairs made as far back as 2019 are being investigated as potentially contributing to last November’s outage. The email reads, “Clarification--it was a bad feeder cable, not a bad cell. The line was repaired in 2/2019. The repair was a splice which may be the cause of the short.”

Officials with the mayor’s office and Public Works declined to comment on the preliminary findings. Both offices said once a final report is received, it will be released to the public.

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.”