Odessa shuts off entire water system due to leak in water line

City of Odessa Water Distribution employees work through the night as they attempt to repair a broken water main on June 14, 2022. (Courtesy Odessa American/Eli Hartman, Courtesy Odessa American/Eli Hartman)

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ODESSA — An outage left tens of thousands of residents without running water on Saturday afternoon after crews could not isolate a leak that city leaders say began earlier in the week.

Water also stopped flowing for county residents outside the city limits, a majority of whom rely on Odessa’s water plant as well, Mayor Javier Joven said.

The city shut off its entire water supply Saturday at 6:50 p.m. and issued a public notice roughly two hours later. By then, many people on social media said they went the day without running water. The city said it did not announce the outage earlier because some households still had water trickling out of the faucets, albeit on very low pressure.

On Sunday, the city announced that a boil water notice remained in effect and was expected to lift after 10 a.m. Monday. The announcement said that bacterial water samples must be incubated for 24 hours and had not been taken until Sunday morning, when crews flushed the water lines.

The outage is the latest in a yearslong race to keep up with the 700 miles of rapidly aging and deteriorating water infrastructure in Odessa. At the center of the Permian Basin’s oil patches and one of its fastest-growing cities, Odessa is struggling to adapt to an increasing demand for water and other city services. In 2022, a water line break left the city without water to drink, wash, or flush toilets amid a summer heatwave.

[Everything you need to know about Texas’ beleaguered water systems]

City leaders said Saturday that they expected to restore water service by midnight.

Joven expects similar water line breaks in the coming months because of years of neglect. Odessa’s utilities director last April warned that if the infrastructure was left unattended, the system could experience “catastrophic failures,” the Odessa American reported.

“More breaks are going to happen,” Joven said Saturday night.

City Manager John Beckmeyer said crews discovered a leaking valve on a main line on Tuesday but decided to wait before fixing the leak to avoid interruptions in service during the work week. At the time, officials told the public they believed the leak and the repair would be isolated. In the days that followed, water streamed down busy 42nd Street as maintenance crews attempted to release excess water pressure.

On Saturday, repair crews determined they would have to remove the valve and replace it, forcing them to shut off the water supply at the source.

City leaders said they will address the outage during the upcoming city council meeting on Tuesday, where they plan to confirm the amount of water the city and its residents lost — and how much it cost them.

The water line break caused disruptions throughout the county. Restaurants closed their doors due to the lack of water while others used their reserves. Residents flocked to supermarkets to purchase bottled water to make due.

“It’s one of those things where we’re always on high alert,” said Alejandro Barrientos, owner of Curb Side Bistro, a local restaurant. Barrientos said he and his staff had been monitoring the water pressure on Friday. When the city issued its first notice on Saturday, the restaurant's staff turned to its backup water reserves.

“You use that and pray you have enough to get through your shift,” he said.

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