City of Houston

Houston City Council approves funding to address aging underground infrastructure as water main breaks increase

Houston had the highest number of water leaks in its history this year. According to Mayor Sylvester Turner, the city would usually see 400 water main leaks per day but during the summer, that number jumped up to 1,100 in one day. 

Lucio Vasquez / Houston Public Media
FILE: A 96-inch water main burst Thursday near the East Loop, flooding nearby streets in 2020.

Houston City Council approved several agenda items on Wednesday totaling over $21 million to fix the city's aging underground infrastructure that's been overwhelming the city for months now.

Houston had the highest number of water leaks in its history this year. According to Mayor Sylvester Turner, the city would usually see 400 water main leaks per day but during the summer, that number jumped up to 1,100 in one day.

On Wednesday, Houston Public Works said the city already had 632 active water leaks that day.

Councilmember Abbie Kamin pointed out the increase in water breaks this summer was due to the drought conditions.

"All of these items, just so that the public knows, relate to the increase in water main breaks that we continue to see throughout the city – that are a direct result of the increase in drought," Kamin said. "Which unfortunately, we are going to continue to see this trend throughout the years."

Kamin represents District C. She said some residents have been trying to get water repairs done for several weeks. She questioned if the city is investing in quality underground water pipes, comparing the situation to the winter freeze in February 2021.

"Are we looking at, just like with the freeze, we now use and are trending towards different types of piping in our homes that are more resilient," she said. "Are we looking at that type of improvement for our underground infrastructure because we're continuing to see so much of this?"

Due to an overwhelming increase of water leaks the city had to bring in extra contractors to address the issue. Turner said bringing the extra contractors helped, but it came with an expense. He said moving forward the city will have extra contractors on standby.

"So we simply have to get prepared to have enough contractors in place, pre chosen, so that we can respond as quickly as possible and not have all this water flowing down the streets," Turner said.

Some council members were concerned about how much it will cost to truly fix the city's underground infrastructure.

Mayor Turner said although the project will be costly and will cause some inconvenience it's best to get a head start on the problem now.

"As it gets hotter, things start shifting and things start breaking," he said. "So as best as possible, I think it’s going to be important for us to kind of get in ahead of time."

Residents have been complaining about high water bills and several council members say that could be a result of the constant leaks. Vice Mayor Pro Tem Martha Castex-Tatum says residents should be more aware of the leak problem.

"It’s important that we gather this information so that we can share with our constituents because over the last several months, we are receiving so many complaints about the cost of people’s water bills," she said.

She said she wants to know if the water leaks are impacting residents’ water bills.

"When they see water running for long periods of time, there is the correlation of well, who’s paying for this water that’s running in our streets," she said.

Council member Robert Gallegos of District I mentioned the problem is more than just the water leaks, but the city has outdated maps which makes it hard for workers to even access the valves.

"Unfortunately, the problem is that the old infrastructure, the maps are outdated, and they were trying to find out where that cut off valve was."

He was referring to a massive water leak on Wayside a few months ago that caused residents to be without water all day.

"We were getting calls from residents in the area, when are they going to have water again," he said. "[I] checked in with Public Works and one of the workers there, he informed me council member, we could've had this fixed within two hours."

City Council approved authorization purchase for Houston Public Works for nine months. The Department can now move forward with contractors on the beginning stages of inspecting and repairing the infrastructure.

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