National Rural Water Association

2915 S. 13th Street

Duncan, OK 73533

580-252-0629   FAX 580-255-4476

Contact:  Chris Wilson, nrwacw@nrwa.org

September 18, 2008
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Rural water staff restoring power to hurricane-damaged Texas 

 

MAURICEVILLE, Texas – With rain from Ike still pouring down, emergency staff from the Texas Rural Water Association rolled out of their staging area in Mauriceville, Texas, bringing portable generators and emergency supplies to the small systems in the storm’s path.
            One of the first systems to restore water service was Raywood, a small utility that serves about 500 customers. The Raywood Water Service Corporation lost power around 1 a.m. as the hurricane made landfall Sunday. The water stored in the water tower kept the system pressurized for a few more hours. When the water ran out, the system called TRWA for assistance.
            “I got the call at about 6 a.m.,” said Larry Bell, TRWA’s Director of Technical Assistance. “I had the generator there, up and running, before 3 p.m..”
            Raywood had power restored eight hours after calling for help.
             Staff deployed through the impacted area, responding to calls for assistance or according to plans made before impact. TRWA water technicians contacted systems in Ike’s path to get information of the system’s potential needs and contact information. Responses were planned and teams organized before the post-disaster chaos.
            How many of the systems benefited from the advanced planning?
            “All of them,” said Michael Vollmar, TRWA Director of Training and Professional
Development.  
            “I think it just helps people, knowing someone cares,” he added.
            Vollmar coordinated and organized the TRWA response, matching available generators with the load needs of systems, organizing supplies of fuel, parts and cable, and deploying staff for follow-up or technical assistance.
            As TRWA emergency responders deployed to deliver generators and other supplies, staff made on site-contact with utility operators to assess their needs. Rural water circuit riders, roving assistance specialists, and wastewater technicians that work with these operators year-round were able to quickly assess each system’s needs and coordinate the association’s limited assets to the utilities.
            “We’re getting more requests than we have generators to fill,” Vollmar said.
            TRWA started rotating generators between systems with water towers, or elevated storage, allowing multiple systems to maintain pressure without a constant power supply. TRWA is also coordinating with members of their Rural Water Emergency Assistance Cooperative, an agreement between rural systems to share equipment, staff and supplies during emergencies. RWEAC members who were unaffected, or have regained normal operations, are providing equipment and personnel to utilities in impacted areas.
            “Our cooperative members are a real blessing,” said Tommy Duck, TRWA Executive Director. “We can send them into areas near the edge of the impact zone, and often their response is more timely and efficient than what we can supply from our staging area.”
            Larger cooperative agreements are also supplying additional equipment and personnel for TRWA. The Florida Rural Water Association dispatched an experienced hurricane response team with a supply of portable generators and the National Rural Water Association sent a team of support staff. These teams are focused on providing emergency power, but other state associations have teams of rural water professionals on stand-by to provide technical assistance once power is restored.
            “When you see these trees uprooted, you might be looking at a broken line,” explained William White, a TRWA Circuit Rider. He explained that disaster clean-up can be just as damaging as the storm, breaking pipes and hydrants with heavy equipment.
            “During Rita, most of the damage was to our distribution system, we had hundreds of leaks,” explained Jeff Holland, manager of the Mauriceville Special Utility District. “It can be very disheartening to work so many hours and feel like you’re not making progress.”
            Luckily this year his Mauriceville’s operation has been “business as usual.”
            Some operators were forced to shut down their systems and evacuation, only returning to their utilities on Tuesday.
            “It’s going to be weeks for some areas,” Duck said.
            Some systems are still blocked by flood water and may take several more days before professionals can make a preliminary assessment.
            “Right now the game wardens are using airboats to move into some areas along the coast,” White explained. “They say some most of the systems look intact, but they’re underwater.”
            TRWA’s response will continue long after the emergency response has ended.
            “This is what we do,” Duck said. “We’re here, in the rural systems, making sure people have water.”

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