Texoma road to recovery starts

Michael Hutchins
Herald Democrat
Crews with the city of Denison work to repair a water line that was damaged during winter storms last week.

As Mother Nature loosened her wintery grasp on the Texoma Region this weekend, utility and emergency officials have started the daunting task of understanding what happened across the region.

Officials with Grayson County, Sherman and Denison said crews are currently working to repair extensive damages to the water system and restore water to residents who were without through most of last week's winter storms.

Crews in the city of Denison spent the last few days working constantly to repair more than 50 breaks in city water mains that have prevented a full restoration of the city's water resources to residents and customers.

"We've got our public work employees working on these, but we also have hired contractors," said Aaron Werner, Denison managing director of communications and engagement. "We did that last week knowing that the damage would be more than we could address."

In some cases, workers have not gone returned home since the recovery effort started, Werner said. Instead, they have taken breaks and rested at city facilities.

By Monday morning, 50 of a reported 56 water main breaks across the city grid have been repaired. Despite the progress, Werner said there could be far more breaks that haven't been found or reported yet.

The focus Monday has been on the areas surrounding the Parkdale Tower, Grayson College and Perrin Field., which continue to see water issues. The tower itself is a major concern because it is used to feed water to Pottsboro, which continues to have limited access.

The breaks across the grid have made filling the tank difficult, as much of the water is lost to these breaks. On an average winter day, the city may see about three to four million gallons of water pumped in the system. However, now the city is seeing around eight to nine million gallons.

"The amount of water we are seeing on the system is astronomical," Werner said.

The repairs to breaks have slowly alleviated this issue and allowed the towers to start refilling, much to the relief of Denison and Pottsboro residents.

"We are seeing progress in all of those areas," Werner said Monday. "Yesterday was the first time people in the Parkdale area saw water in their faucets."

Despite the relief of running water, city officials noted that there still is a boil order in place. Interim City Manager Bobby Atteberry noted that this will likely be resolved slowly over time, with some neighborhoods expected to be cleared late Monday or Tuesday.

In the interim, city officials have been distributing bottled water to residents in need.

Grayson County itself has served as a major component of the relief effort by coordinating and distributing bottled water to the cities, who in turn distribute to  residents. Werner noted that the city of Denison started this effort early by acquiring its own bottled water for distribution.

"The county judge ordered that (a) county staging area be established so that we can receive shipments of water from the state to get out to our cities to give to the residents and the commissioners are making sure we are taking care of the unincorporated areas along with some fire departments," said Sarah Somers, director of the Grayson County Office of Emergency Management.

The county is still waiting for its disaster declaration to be approved by the state, Somers added. In the meantime, the county has received more than 100 pallets of water to distributed throughout the region. 

Those who need water are asked to check the website of the closest city for details about getting bottled water

While resources steadily come back online, all are asked that residents conserve water as much as possible, As of Sunday evening, boil orders were in affect for the cities of Bells, Denison, Dorchester, Gunter, Knollwood, Pottsboro, Sherman, Southmayd, Tioga, Tom Bean, Van Alstyne and Whitewright. 

Meanwhile in Sherman, the majority of the city's water tanks have been restored to service and around 40 water main breaks have been repaired. Many of the remaining outages are very isolated and may be on individual properties rather than the city main itself.

Like Denison, Sherman officials said that a boil order is expected to be gradually lifted for the city over the next few days

"As a system basis, we are back, but there are a few odds and ends that still need to be addressed," City Council Member Josh Stevenson said. "You go from zero to 98 very quickly, and then that final two percent is almost a case-by-case basis."

Many residents in Sherman lost water service for multiple days after the city's new surface water treatment plant lost power during rolling blackouts. The plant, which features elevated pipes, froze over and went out of service in the process.

City officials attempted to switch all residents to the ground water system. However, the rolling blackouts led to some of the pumps going out of services. Stevenson noted the plants are traditionally high power users.

The remaining system was unable to keep up with the full demands of Sherman and its water towers.

 Stevenson plans to bring forward a proposal to form a panel to look at the emergency and water happened in an effort to prevent future losses of electric service. These efforts could include finding alternative power options for the plant that take it off the electric grid during an emergency.

This could have a residual benefit of reducing the pressure on the electric grid. During last week's storms, state officials said efforts were made to shed some of the demand in hopes of maintaining the grid.

The city has considered installing electric generators at the plants previously, Stevenson said. However, the cost was too high to justify this. Now, this is a conversation that city leaders will need to have again, he said.