Residents Affected by Water Main Break Call for Better Communication from Houston Public Works

Ron Delaney first noticed something was wrong when the concrete at the intersection of Tidwell and Antoine appeared to be sinking.
Ron Delaney first noticed something was wrong when the concrete at the intersection of Tidwell and Antoine appeared to be sinking. Photo by Ron Delaney
After receiving next to no information from Houston Public Works about a water main break that occurred right outside of Ron Delaney’s neighborhood at the intersection of Tidwell and Antoine, Delaney decided to take matters into his own hands.

The break, which was identified by inspectors on Monday evening, caused low water pressure and outages in Delaney’s neighborhood, Antoine Forest Estates, as well as several others in the Greater Inwood area.

Although this leak impacted about 2,000 homes, according to Erin Jones, Public Information Officer at Houston Public Works, the city did not notify most residents about the break or update them on when to expect it to be fixed unless they reported issues prior, Delaney said.

“Public Works was useless, and if you called 311 they told residents a different story each time as to why we were having water issues,” Delaney, the president of Antoine Forest Estates’s civic association said. “I literally started telling my residents not to call 311.”

Because the city was unable to provide any of the residents with additional information or an estimated time of completion for the repairs, Delaney visited the intersection to gather more information for his residents.

“Ron actually filled us in about the break before the city of Houston did,” Alan Howell a resident of Antoine Forest Estates said. “The city didn’t know what was going on and they didn’t have an estimated time of completing any repairs or even a diagnosis of what the issue was at that time."

Before reaching out to Delaney, Howell tried contacting the city but every time he asked for updates they asked him to call them back. “It just sounded like they didn’t have any information to give us and even if they did we would have to call for it first, they wouldn’t call us."

Delaney kept residents like Howell updated and answered any questions they had. When the water was finally restored in the neighborhood on Tuesday at noon, the residents still did not receive any form of notification by the city.

“I feel like we were getting more information from Ron than the city about this issue and issues outside of this situation,” Howell said. “The city of Houston doesn’t seem to put much information out there for us.”

Calls for better communication from Public Works didn’t just come from residents, they also came from the District A’s City Council Member, Amy Peck.

Peck, who represents the neighborhoods of this area, also turned to Delaney for information about the situation after having no luck with coming in contact with Public Works.

She had called and emailed Public Works, but only received an email Tuesday afternoon once a majority of the water was restored, Peck said. Before this exchange, she was relying on what Delaney told her about the status of the intersection’s repairs.

“A lot of people had no idea what was happening, we could have utilized the Houston alert system to do an emergency alert to notify the areas that were impacted that there was a water leak and that crews were fixing it, just so that people could know what was going on and not think it was just an issue with their home,” Peck said.

Peck described the city’s lack of communication as akin to the late boil water notice that happened last November.

“I was a bit frustrated, especially because one of the criticisms of the last boil water notice we had was that Public Works didn’t tell the council members what was happening and we didn’t get any information,” Peck said. “Here we are again, this obviously isn’t city wide, but it is affecting many people, so it would have been nice to be able to communicate better with our constituents.”

According to Jones, the latest update is that all water was restored in the areas affected by 8 p.m. on Tuesday night. Public Works has not yet determined what caused the break, but said they would update accordingly.

Delaney said roads along the intersection have had their lanes reopened and that the hole crew members dug to fix the break is now paved over with asphalt. Although the city has not yet found the source of the break, Delaney is connecting the dots to the city’s aging infrastructure and inability to keep up with the modifications and repairs needed.

“I can tell you the reason it broke, the infrastructure’s old,” Delaney said. “They were already planning to re-do the entire Antoine area, so it’s just the crumbling infrastructure that is yet to be replaced.”
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Faith Bugenhagen is on staff as a news reporter for The Houston Press, assigned to cover the Greater-Houston area.