Weathering the storm: Sherman considers water system updates after 2021 storms

Michael Hutchins
Herald Democrat
City leaders discuss a series of agreements aimed at ensuring the stability and integrity of the city's water system in the future. The discussions followed winter storms that cut water service to many residents for multiple days.

The city of Sherman took steps Monday night to ensure the stability of its water systems for the future and any emergencies that may come up. The council approved two agreements, valued at $372,000, Monday night aimed at assessing future wastewater needs and installing backup power at water treatment and pump sites.

The agreements come as the city has put a renewed focus on ensuring the viability of its water systems following historic winter storms in February that crippled water service for the majority of the Sherman, along with many cities across the state. In the weeks since, city leaders have looked back at the storms and assessed ways to prevent these large-scale failures from happening again.

"Although this was something that has never experienced in our history, it exposed weakness we had in our system," City Manager Robby Hefton said. "So, we wanted to take immediate action to design and improve our systems so that we can ensure that that doesn't happen again."

The council voted unanimously to approve a $190,000 professional services agreement with Parkhill, Smith & Cooper for the engineering of backup power generators that will be installed at the city's water treatment plant and raw water pump station along Lake Texoma.

During February's storms, both sites lost power after ERCOT asked power distributors to  enact rolling blackouts in an effort to alleviate some of the record-breaking demand on the state's power grid. In the process of shedding demand, distributors cut power to utility services for many cities, including Sherman.

Hefton said the sites had some redundancy in the form of multiple power feeds. However, this did not prevent the systems from losing power and freezing over.

City leaders previously said that the sites should have been included in a list of locations that were exempt from the rolling blackouts, however they were not. City staff have said that this should be rectified, but gave no update on if that has occurred.

Council member Sandra Melton questioned the need for this agreement, noting that the city's water treatment should be exempt in the future. Between that promise and the dual feeds, she said there should be enough protections in place to prevent a future incident similar to February's storms.

"I do not understand why we would spend the money," she said.

February storms proved that nothing should be taken for granted, and the city would be wise to take its own steps to prevent a future outage, Hefton said. This includes take steps that do not involve decision-making from state and regional power officials.

"We need to have all the crucial sites that we have ...  be able to rely on this backup power and not ERCOT or Oncor or whoever," Hefton said.

Melton also questioned the need to bring in a pricy consultant rather than use the city's resources and do the work in house.  Multiple members of city staff noted that the lever of work needed for the engineering, and ties to the state power grid, would go well beyond the expertise of city workers.

"I agree with what you are saying, but after talking to all the people I talked after we didn't have any water, I think the citizens I talked to would be willing pay just about  anything to make sure that doesn't happen," Council member Josh Stevenson said.

"It's very complicated. This plant uses I think in a day more power than it would take to power 1,400 homes," Mayor David Plyler added.

In a separate agreement, the council approved a $182,000 agreement with Plummer Associates, Inc. to do a condition assessment of the city's Post Oak Wastewater Plant. The agreement will have the consultants assess the site and determine any needed repairs, improvements or other enhancements that are needed not only now but also for the city's future growth.

"We will evaluate our wastewater treatment plant components," Sherman Utility Engineer Tom Pruitt said. "They will look at structures, they will look at mechanisms, and they will compare that to renewal efficiencies, how well it works, and from that they will prioritize what needs to expanded upon with growth."

This will be the first condition assessment of the site that has ever been conducted, officials said. Melton questioned the need of the assessment now, when it wasn't needed in the past. Pruitt said that recent changes in utility staff has created a need for the future generation of workers to know the condition of the system so that educated decisions can be made in the future.

"You are never too long to get an expert opinion on where we are going to go with this," he said. "As we've had a lot of turnover in the last few years with people and we are having new people move up, we need them to know where we stand and where we are going to go."

Beyond this, officials said that the city is in a period of growth and these studies can ensure the city is prepared and ready for future utility needs.

"Considering so far in this meeting we've approved 123 single-family (homes) and  504 multi-family units, we may want to take a look at this thing," Stevenson said.