City of Houston

City of Houston approves nearly $48 million in funding for waterline repairs

Last year, the city spent around $36 million on emergency repairs, and at one point water leaks reached over 1,000 in one day.

Photo outside of Houston City Hall
Daisy Espinoza / Houston Public Media

Houston City Council approved nearly $48 million on Wednesday for emergency waterline repairs to battle the city's ongoing water leaks – caused by the extreme drought and the city's aging infrastructure.

Mayor Sylvester Turner put out a call for additional contractors to help in August, the same time the city's water restrictions were put in place. Prior to the call, the city had four outside contractors and that number has since risen to 10, and city officials said they're looking for two more. Houston entered into Stage 2 of its Drought Contingency Plan after officials said the excessive heat was putting a strain on the city's water system. Since the restrictions, Houston Public Works said the water system was progressing.

Since June 1, active water leaks have increased from 100 to 500 said Mayor Pro Tem Dave Martin in Wednesday's meeting. More than 4,000 water leaks have been repaired so far, and city workers are still completing the vast majority of the work. Houston Public Works has repaired 2,600, while outside contractors have completed 1,700.

Martin said since June 2023, 311 calls to report water leaks have increased to about 20,000. Houston Public Works Public Information Officer Erin Jones noted the amount of calls is not a reflection of the number of leaks – some calls are regarding the same leaks.

The funding will be divided among 11 outside contractors with amounts ranging between $3 million to over $11 million. Last year, the city spent around $36 million on emergency repairs, and water leaks reached over 1,000 in one day. With the new approved funding of about $47 million – the city has now spent nearly $84 million to address the water leak issue according to officials.

District C Council Member Abbie Kamin said aside from the emergency water line costs, the city could face other potential risks in terms of funding. She added overtime for city crews grew to $1.1 million from June to September and $1.27 million from unaccounted water loss.

"There’s all of these hidden costs that are being impacted by as it relates to drought, and of course, the rain is starting. We’re very happy about that, but then you add on the risk of flooding, right, and we’re seeing those weather extremes," she said.

Kamin said she's hoping the funding will expedite the 311 calls as well. She said District C, deals with excessive water leaks. A recent water leak in the Heights that was reported a few weeks ago erupted into a geyser, because Houston Public Works was not able to get to it in a timely manner, Kamin said.

Although the Houston area is experiencing some rain this week, Martin said water restrictions are still in place and Houston Public Works has released that information as well via X, formerly known as Twitter.

"While the rain is very helpful, and we look for more in the next couple of days, it’s not enough to lift the drought watering restrictions," he said " So even with the rain we are in extreme drought conditions in the city of Houston so please abide by the drought water restrictions that we have in place."