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More than 165,000 people in Odessa still without water after aging line breaks

Motorists drive along Interstate 20 in Odessa earlier this year. A water main break caused many in the West Texas city to lose water.
Eli Hartman
The Texas Tribune
Motorists drive along Interstate 20 in Odessa earlier this year. A water main break caused many in the West Texas city to lose water.

Officials haven’t specified what caused the break, but say the broken line is about 60 years old.

More than 165,000 residents in Odessa have gone nearly 24 hours without water as a major water line break occurred in the West Texas town — and may need to boil water once service is restored.

The break occurred at 6 p.m. Monday, and Mayor Javier Joven said it was difficult for maintenance crews to isolate the break, leading them to shut down the city’s entire water system.

“Because of the critical nature of the loss in pressure, we were compelled to take the plant offline to begin the repairs that are ongoing,” Joven explained during a press conference Tuesday. “Crews have been on site since 6 p.m. Midland has been a big help. They have sent equipment and crews. We are in contact with the state and we have more water en route.”

Ector County Judge Debi Hays issued a disaster declaration and a boil water notice as a result of the break. The system will be turned back on when the repair is fixed, which is expected to be around 9 p.m. The system will need at least 10-12 hours to fully restart. Odessa residents can pick up bottled water from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Wednesday at the Ector County Coliseum, 4201 Andrews Highway. Each person will be limited to one case.

There were reports throughout the day about nursing homes needing assistance and surgeries being canceled until the break is resolved.

“We have assisted the hospital with some of their needs. We wanted to make sure we provided that water for them,” said John Alvarez, fire chief for Odessa Fire Rescue. “We have delivered water to the nursing homes that needed it.”

Odessa officials haven’t specified exactly what caused the 24-inch line to break but have pointed to the city’s aging water system as being a problem. The broken line is about 60 years old.

“Aging water systems are common throughout the country,” explained Tom Kerr, the city’s utilities director. “It’s often difficult for municipalities to be able to afford to manage those systems as they age. That’s the situation we find ourselves in.”

To help residents, the city of Odessa set up several water distribution centers around town for residents to pick up one case of water per vehicle until 7 p.m. Tuesday. The city has not said if there will be more offered the following day.

Gov. Greg Abbott directed the Texas Division of Emergency Management to coordinate and deploy resources in response to the disaster declaration, stating the water line failure is impacting approximately 165,000 Texans in the area.

“The State of Texas is taking swift action to respond to Odessa’s impacted water supply and support the local community in meeting their water needs,” Abbott said. “I urge residents in Odessa to follow guidance from local officials and take the proper precautions to ensure their health and safety as we work together to restore safe tap water in the community.”