October 18, 2023 639 PM
TERLINGUA — In the aftermath of a well failure last week, on-the-grid water users in Terlingua and Study Butte were advised that they were under a boil water notice. That restriction escalated last Saturday, when the Study Butte Water Supply Corporation (SBWSC) announced that the water supply was not only unsafe to drink, but could also not be used for cooking or bathing — or even for consumption by animals.
On Thursday, October 19, a meeting will be held at the Red Patillo Community Center starting at 6 p.m. to field comments and concerns from community members.
The unsafe water warning was handed down to the SBWSC by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ). When the well failed on October 9, users were advised to conserve water and encouraged to shut off their meters in order for the system to recover from high demand over a three-day weekend.
The SBWSC acted quickly to restore service by trucking water in from outside sources, including the water supply in Lajitas and Big Bend National Park. Despite the fresh supply, customers were still advised to boil water. “[Outside sources] are providing us with some water to fill the tanks, but we are not out of the woods yet,” read a notice posted on October 10.
On October 14, the water corporation was required by TCEQ to post a notice that any consumption of drinking water could result in illness, due to the fact that the water could be “possibly contaminated with an unknown substance”.
TCEQ Spokesperson Ricky Richter explained that the potential health concerns were sparked by the corporation’s method of delivery. “Because the unapproved water haulers may have introduced unknown microbial or chemical contamination to the system, a Do Not Use notice was issued by SBWSC for the protection of public health,” he wrote in a statement to The Big Bend Sentinel.
SBWSC Board President Bill Gilles described the situation as “a nightmare for everyone.” He was confused by the state mandate, given the fact that the water was transported to the tanks in potable water trucks from treated sources. Despite the issues with the well, he was confident in the product. “I still brush my teeth with it every morning,” he said.
Gilles explained relief was on the way for the beleaguered system in the form of grants. The corporation’s first priority would be replacing the switch box for the water pump, aided by a set of generators that would help keep the water system going during emergencies and power outages. Any remaining funds would go to tackle projects supporting the system’s longevity, including replacing critical parts with long-lasting stainless steel.
SBWSC officials anticipate more information to become available by the time Thursday’s meeting begins. Gilles said that the faulty well should be up and running by Wednesday evening, and that samples for TCEQ approval would be transported to the appropriate facilities on Thursday.
The Red Patillo Community Center is located on Rex Ivey Road behind the Terlingua Post Office.