After holiday boil water notice, City Council discusses aging infrastructure

ALPINE — On Christmas Day, Alpine residents’ holiday spirits were dampened by an unfortunate and unwanted gift: a notice from the city instructing them to boil their water before consumption in order to avoid harmful bacteria. 

The notice was necessary due to a water main line break on North Highway 118 near the U.S. District Court — though the break was initially thought to be from the cold, it was later discovered that the bedding around the pipe had caved in and caused it to crack.

Repair crews were hard at work repairing the line on Christmas evening and into the next day — the size of the break meant that a portion of the pipe would need to be replaced entirely, Mayor Catherine Eaves announced via Facebook, making the project a time-consuming undertaking. 

Though the line was repaired by the evening of December 26, the water department was required to bring samples to Odessa for diagnostic testing to ensure it would be safe to consume. Those test results were in by December 28, at which point the boil water notice was officially lifted.

In the meantime, Mayor Eaves encouraged residents to spread the word about the notice to those who may not have access to social media or may not listen to the radio. Posters announcing the notice were distributed at Porters and True Value, and information was shared on the city website. The notice was also distributed via a reverse 911 system called Hyper-Reach — the mayor encouraged residents to sign up for the service in order to receive such emergency notifications moving forward.

At Tuesday’s City Council meeting — the first of the year, and the first meeting since the main break — locals and city employees heaped praise on the workers who braved the frigid weather on Christmas to repair the line and the citizens who kept their spirits up by delivering food and drink to the workers. Bottled water from the Food Pantry of Alpine was distributed by the Alpine Police Department as residents waited out the notice.

“I am so proud of Alpine, and how we pulled together and worked together,” said Mayor Eaves, who was tuning into the meeting via Zoom as she recovered from illness.

The holiday occurrence prompted the mayor and council members to address a larger issue at hand — the city’s aging water infrastructure. “We need to get onto this as soon as possible I think, because we’re going to have more situations like this occur as time goes on,” said Mayor Eaves.

Councilmember Judy Stokes also urged her fellow council members to prioritize infrastructure repair, and argued a larger budget was necessary to do so. “I would like to be the council that fixes these water pipes, that fixes these roads, but we’re not going to do it with the current budget,” she said.

“This is our house,” she continued. “We’re gonna have to fix it.”

In an interview with The Big Bend Sentinel, City Manager Megan Antrim clarified that in this particular case, the main break was not due to aging pipes — the crack was actually caused by “improper bedding,” meaning the contractor had dug the trench, installed the pipe, then dumped the soil back into the trench to cover the pipe. That approach means bedding that includes rocks is put back over the pipe, and over time the movement from those rocks can chip away at the pipe, eventually causing a crack.

Still, said Antrim, comments about needing to repair the city’s infrastructure are correct — large sections of the water lines were last replaced around 2003 and 2004. “There’s still other parts of town that need to be addressed,” said Antrim. “It’s an ongoing maintenance program.”

An overall maintenance program will address infrastructure needs, said Antrim — tackling a larger project to replace water lines also means ensuring bedding is done properly to prevent incidents like the one that happened on Christmas from occuring in the future.

“It’s very relevant, because it’s being prepared for incidents like this,” she said.

The city is currently developing a strategic plan with the goal of managing city needs like ailing infrastructure — a series of town halls were held last year to gather citizen input. Next week, the city will host its first “prioritization meeting” to discuss what needs should be prioritized, and the public is encouraged to attend. That meeting will take place on January 12 at 5:30 p.m. in the City Council chambers.