Stuart Barron, director of Public Works, said this department for the City of Kerrville includes almost 60 employees: Barron and Scott Loveland and two others in administration; 15 staffers in the Streets Division; one in the Solid Waste section; 12 in the Water Production Division; eight in the Water Reclamation section (wastewater treatment); six in the wastewater collections section; four at the Lab at the Water Treatment Plant; and nine in the Water Distribution Division.
“A lot of them slept in their offices during the week of the ice/snow storm,” Barron said. He also brought a cot or two to his office in City Hall, too, as a back-up, but nobody needed to borrow one, and he was able to get to his home when he could leave work.
“Our departments were manned 24 hours a day. And when some employees were trapped at home, other employees helped out,” he said.
They called in their meter-readers to help answer phones, knowing the calls gave some people more peace of mind.
Their pre-planning started with exchanges of emails about the dire weather forecasts out by Wednesday, Feb. 10, starting with the Water Department before the weather turned bitter cold that Thursday night and Friday.
The first action item was to top off every water tank in the system.
“Then we winterized the water and wastewater plants and the wells, and any exposed pipes.”
Barron said they had one water main break during the cold week, and as of Friday, Feb. 20, they had three water mains being worked on around town including the 200 block of Clay Street and the 600 block of Earl Garrett.
And while the water plant went down once during that week, they also had two water wells running continuously throughout the weeklong emergency.
“The big water lines usually aren’t going to freeze, but the smaller chlorine lines we use to treat the water, did. And they’re harder to ‘clear’ and get running,” he said. “The electrical blackouts affected the whole operation because you can’t make (drinking) water without power.”
Barron said for his employees, most of their physical work has to be done outside. Each department had warming stations in their buildings, even if it was a simple “break room” with a table and some chairs and a microwave, someplace to have hot food and sit in a warm space. He said employees and citizens provided food to the crews that week, including one city staffer who made a huge pot of chili and delivered it to the Water Plant.
‘Plumbing 101’ for
Barron said the basic rules for plumbing in a house in the city are, the city is responsible for the water mains in the street and into the property to the water meters. The resident/owner is responsible for what happens to the water line from the meter to and inside the house.
“Between the meter and the house there should be a ‘shut-off valve,’” he said, “and the customer can turn off that valve themselves if needed.”
If the owner/resident of a home or business can’t get a plumber to come quickly, they can use that hand valve to turn off the water until the problem can be fixed; and the customer can turn it back on.
It’s an obvious sign of a burst water pipe or related problem if you have a wet floor inside the home, or there is water literally running under a door to the outside. He’s noticed that sometimes at people’s houses when he’s driving down a street. He once couldn’t find anyone home to talk to, and found the shut-off valve and closed it himself.
During the recent storm, in spite of his professional knowledge and precautions, his own home was without electricity all but about 30 hours out of 10 days and they had no water at times.
The Street Department has a chemical they put down on icy roads. In the past they used sand, Barron said.
Now they have a de-icing material, a granular compound mixed with fine gravel.
The crews fueled up all equipment, he said, and checked their supply of de-icing material.
For equipment, the city owns two “spreader units” that are attached to dump trucks to use. Barron said that equipment, and the material to be put in them, is stored inside the “barns” at the Street Department where the temperature is kept at least above freezing.
“In town, the city crews put down that gravel mixture. We have crews do the bridges first, and the roads by north-facing hills,” Barron said. “The bridges include the ones on Holdsworth Drive, Alpine Drive, on Loop 534 near the YO Hotel and on the Loop by north-facing hills. We also treat the Sidney Baker bridge over the river, and the Town Creek bridges near Gibson’s.”
He said they were conservative with their supplies, and never ran out in the recent storms.
“We also treated the hills on roads including Sidney Baker South, Yorktown to Hilltop Village, and Methodist Encampment to a city water tower we needed to check, until that one got too icy to travel,” Barron said.
They don’t have a snow plow, but they used the blade on a “maintainer” to carefully push snow off the main streets, and at the hospital, fire stations and nursing homes, for emergency access.
He said for most things, Texas Department of Public Safety is responsible for the roads that residents think of as city streets (Sidney Baker, Main Street, Junction Highway, Bandera Highway, etc.). “But TxDOT’s priority is all of Interstate 10, their responsibility; and they were very busy with that.”
During emergencies including last week’s ice and snow, Barron said Joel Meyners, head of the Street Department, goes out to check road conditions, or sometimes the Police Department calls them.
“We checked every morning at 4 a.m. so we could report to management at 5 a.m. what road conditions to expect.”
He said lots of Street Department employees started into the storm period working 12-hour shifts, but that was too long under those conditions. So they changed it to three-hour shifts and between stops and locations, they went to the department office where it was warm.
For the wastewater department’s machinery, Barron said they had auxiliary generators to pump wastewater through the system at various sites when the pumps froze.
He said the recent “boil water” notice was a result of their knowledge about what happens in loss of water pressure; and to rescind that notice to customers, they must do laboratory testing. That was done and the water notice was ended late Sunday. Feb. 21.
“This event has strengthened the community. Now, more so than ever, we have pulled together to help one another,” said Barrons. “The city pulled together divisions that don’t usually work together; and we all helped one another, fixed the problems and became a stronger unit doing it. I can’t be more proud of our men and women at the city. It has never been better to be part of the Kerrville community and a member of the City of Kerrville family.”