Where's the Water: Beaumont looks at water system after Harvey

Southeast Texans who lived through Harvey learned how drastically life changes when running water is gone. In Beaumont, more than 118,000 people experienced a water shut off. Now their tax dollars are expected to pay for preventative measures that could h

BEAUMONT - Southeast Texans who lived through Harvey learned how drastically life changes when running water is gone. In Beaumont, more than 118,000 people experienced a water shut off. Now their tax dollars are expected to pay for preventative measures that could help avoid the issue during future storms.

Flooding from Harvey took out Beaumont's water supply. The injury ringing up $5 million bill for repairs and long-term plans. Hold on, about half of that could be paid off by FEMA. As for those long-term plans making up the other half, Beaumont tax dollars will most likely be used for a project aimed at preventing another nightmare, water outage.

Let's take a look at the three main parts of Beaumont's water system. There are groundwater wells in Hardin County, a pump station drawing from the Neches River and a treatment plant off Pine Street where the H2O is made safe to drink.

The Loeb wells up in Hardin County were bought roughly 70 years ago. They serve as a backup in times of drought or if a spill in the Neches compromises the water supply. Before Harvey, the wells supplied about 30% of the city's water. During Harvey, the generator power and therefore production stopped at the wells at 3 p.m. on August 29th. Once the water drained, the wells were good to go but the city decided to place the wells on standby. They are now for emergencies only.

About ten miles away, we find the Lawson pump station. It sits on the Neches River near Collier's Ferry Park. This is the main source of water intake for Beaumont. The pump station flooded at 10 p.m. on August 30th. The issue was the control room taking on water. The actual pumps were never damaged, according to Public Works Director Dr. Joseph Majdalani. About $200,000 was spent to get the facility back online. Those repairs, which should be reimbursed by FEMA, took just over a week to complete. The Lawson station was once again pumping on September 7th.

Looking ahead, the city plans to elevate the control room to avoid future problems.
The building housing those crucial controls was built three feet above the 100-year floodplain, or 11 feet above sea level. With Harvey, the building took on seven feet of water. The city wants to elevate the control room eight feet from its current level to about 22 feet above sea level, to protect it from flooding in the future. The new building would sit at least 11 feet above the 100-year floodplain.

Dr. Majdalani believes the elevation project would take about $2 million, based on construction costs for the previous building.

The costs regarding the city water system impacted by Harvey don't stop there. More bills come from temporary pumps that had Beaumont faucets useful days before the pump station was repaired. The equipment set up near the treatment plant off Pine Street was put in place by 5:30 a.m. August 31st. Exxon Mobil, Tiger Industrial, Echo, Bomac and city employees, all worked to put the emergency plan into place.

"The nearest and the easiest point (to take in raw water) is Brake's Bayou," explained Majdalani. "Many years ago we used to utilize the same location to draw water from the canal ... to the treatment plant."

The City is still organizing invoices but estimates it cost about $2.3 million be paid to those companies that got the pumps in place and running and then later removed. Once city leaders they sit down with FEMA, that money could also be reimbursed.

"The storm highlighted the weak areas in the system and what we're trying to do it shore up these areas and harden these areas so that future storms can have less impact on our system," said Majdalani.

The plan could help avoid a hardship that no Beaumont homeowner wants to revisit.  The solution coming with a price tag 

Public Works is still drawing up plans for elevating the Lawson pump station. Once complete, a request will be made for funding from the city budget. If approved, construction will get underway. It is not clear when the project might start.

© 2017 KBMT-TV


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