BEAUMONT, Tx. — Crews with the city of Beaumont will be working throughout the night to try and restore water service to residents by essentially putting a large straw directly into the Neches River in hopes of supplying the water treatment facility and refilling the system, Beaumont City Manager Kyle Haynes told SETINVESTIGATES.COM.
“We are going to try and pump directly out of the river,” Haynes said. “It won’t be potable water but if it works it will allow residents to flush their toilets and take showers.”
The idea is to bring in backups or secondary pumps and take water directly from the river near downtown and bring it into the water treatment facility on Pine Street. It is something that Haynes said was done in the city near a half-century ago but the process had to be stopped because of saltwater intrusion into the Neches River from the Gulf of Mexico.
“We are working out there 24-7, literally, on getting alternative and being able to draw water out of the Neches behind the plant and pump water from the Neches into the plant and then treat it,” he said. “They are working on overnight, tonight, I just left there at 8:30, so I don’t have a good timeline but I can tell you they are committed to work non-stop until they can get water.
“It is not something we can do forever but it is something we think we can do for a while. We are trying to pump water directly out of the river but you don’t have any saltwater intrusion because all the water is flowing from the north and it is flowing at such a rate that you don’t have any salt in it right now. “
Haynes said he and other city leaders took a helicopter ride over the city to assess the damage to the city’s two pumping stations – one of which is near Collier’s Ferry and the other in Loeb near Lumberton. The Loeb station provides about 30 percent of the water used by the city and pumps it directly from the Neches River. The Colliers Ferry Station is near the Beaumont Country Club on Pine Street and takes water from up river and then pumps it back down to the treatment facility. The problem with both stations is that they are more than 10-feet underwater, he said.
Another problem the city is facing once the water goes down is what type of damage awaits them at the pumping stations. And will the pumps even work?
“It just puts it into perspective that record rainfall and record flooding, there is not anything that we could have done differently. We are fortunate that we have two intake facilities. Most cities don’t. Most cities only have one. We just happened to have two and they both just happened to be under 10-plus feet of water.
“So, it knocked out our control system from pumping at either one of them. We’re not going to know what the damage is to the pump stations or the intake facilities. We are not going to know the damage there until the water goes down. But are hoping that we can get water into the plant, build it back up and start our distribution system again and get water back out to the public.”
While in the air, Haynes said he got a clearer picture of exactly how devastating Hurricane/Tropical Storm Harvey was on Southeast Texas.
“There are some big problems that we don’t see from the ground,” Haynes said. “We are so busy trying to bring our city back that we don’t really know what is happening elsewhere. Lumberton and Vidor and along I-10 is very bad. There are so many homes and business completely underwater. It is a shame to see it from that perspective but you can’t see it unless you are in the air. Seeing it from the air, a lot of people lost their homes.”
At this time, Haynes said he is reticent to give a prediction on when water service might be restored to the city’s 118,000 citizens. Asked if it was closer to days than weeks, he said, he couldn’t answer.
“I am not comfortable putting a timeframe on it,” Haynes said.
And regarding rumors the city was planning to call a voluntary, or possibly, even a mandatory evacuation once the water recedes from roadways cutting Beaumont off from the rest of the world, he said that was just a rumor – adding citizens are free to leave but calling an evacuation is up to Mayor Becky Ames.
“No, I don’t make that call but I do not think there would be any type of mandatory evacuation,” Haynes said. “I wouldn’t even be talking about that. That is the mayor’s call. You know, if there is a way out that opens-up in a day, or two, the public has the right to go, if they want to. But I don’t think, at this point, anyone would recommend to us to do that.”