Creekside water outage part of a long-term pattern of water violations, documents show

The boil water notice outside of the Creekside Mobile Homes Office in Lewisville. Residents say this sign is often used instead of the required notices. (Photo by Leopold Knopp)

The Creekside water system that went out of service yesterday has a history of complaints and violations filed with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality going back several years, documents obtained by The Lewisville Texan Journal show.

The Creekside Mobile Home Park in southern Lewisville operates a private water system, which is completely independent of City of Lewisville’s water utilities. The park charges residents for water and has a practical monopoly on water service within the park, since no other water service connects to their system.

However, when a pipe burst and the water went out Tuesday afternoon, Creekside eventually asked the city for help, at which point the city turned to the Salvation Army. The charity, which typically serves people experiencing homelessness, came through to hand out free bottled water for park residents.

“It angers me that the management was requesting assistance from the city on bottled water … when they are the ones profiting from residents,” one resident, who requested to remain anonymous, said. ”They should be out buying it.”

The water is back on, but residents are being asked to boil it for safety before use. They are reporting that the water is cloudy out of the faucet. Residents say they are frequently required to boil their water after outages, loss of water pressure or other potential contamination of the system, incidents which they say range in frequency from once monthly to once weekly, and sometimes even more often at points. When the water is on, they say it is often cloudy or smells of chlorine.

Creekside management would not answer, or even hear, questions about its water system, instead simply telling The Lewisville Texan Journal that the reporter’s contact information had been passed along to the regional manager. Creekside management refused to give contact information for this regional manager.

In two years of covering the Creekside water system, The Lewisville Texan Journal has frequently been referred to higher-level managers in parent company RHP Properties, but has almost never been in contact with them. Even when RHP personnel do respond, it is only to decline comment.

Water outages

In recent years, residents have had several complaints about the Creekside water system. These complaints have resulted in our previous coverage of the mobile home park or investigations when complaints went directly to the TCEQ, but they are not comprehensive.

One such investigation was in February, when after a handful of complaints about low water pressure and boil water notices, TCEQ investigators discovered there wasn’t enough chlorine in the water supply. Chlorine is used to disinfect drinking water, and water suppliers are required to maintain a certain concentration of it in their supply to prevent contamination.

The summary for that investigation mentioned several previous complaints and investigations about the system dating back years. The Lewisville Texan Journal filed an open records request for all these complaints and investigations. The full resulting documents can be found here.

The documents detail several investigations, each of which found multiple violations, recorded by the TCEQ dating back to 2013. Many violations repeat over the years. While two of the investigations were comprehensive compliance investigations that take place every three years, others were spurred by complaints from residents.

One of the repeated violations include meeting well capacity requirements. The comprehensive compliance investigation in 2013 found that the well was only pumping 88.9 percent of the gallons per minute required of a well with 553 connections. The comprehensive investigation in 2016 also found capacity issues — it notes that the system was at 86.5 percent of its required storage capacity and 97 percent of its required storage pump capacity.

The most consistent violations recently have been failures to properly handle boil water notices, either because operators failed to notify the TCEQ or because they used incorrect forms to notify residents. Boil water notices are fliers sent out to inform residents that they must boil all their water before use because it isn’t safe straight from the tap.

Even with several TCEQ violations noted per year, residents paint a much worse picture of living at Creekside. They say that the water is off frequently, and that the management often doesn’t issue boil water notices at all unless under threat, instead preferring to leave a public sign at the front of the park — one residents say could easily be missed, especially if they stay at home.

TCEQ enforcement

The water system went through Texas Commission on Environmental Quality enforcement procedures earlier this year after an investigation in February found that there wasn’t enough chlorine in its water supply. For this violation, TCEQ eventually fined Creekside a total of $431, with $86 deferred.

That fine is less than a single resident’s monthly rent at Creekside.

A pothole in the Creekside neighborhood in 2017. Residents say that the road conditions are frequently poor due to how often the park has water problems. (File photo by Steve Southwell)

TCEQ media relations specialist Brian McGovern said the TCEQ’s goal when they find violations is to bring water systems back into compliance, not to punish them. This is reflected in the investigation documents — every violation that is listed is paired with a date to come back into compliance by, which is often more than a month out. McGovern said that if the system fixes the problem by the set date, they’re considered to be in compliance and face no enforcement measures.

The chlorine violation, which posed an immediate health risk, had needed to be fixed within 24 hours of discovery, and it was not, resulting in enforcement proceedings. But those proceedings resulted in a fine of just $431.

Scared residents

The Lewisville Texan Journal spoke to several residents while researching this and other stories about Creekside, and they have almost uniformly requested to remain anonymous, fearing retaliation from management.

At least one resident is facing what they describe as retaliation for complaining about this most recent outage. The resident said they had received a letter a week ago requesting they replace the air conditioning unit and to add skirting on one side of the mobile home.

A week later, Aug. 2, one day after publicly expressing frustration with the water system related to this outage on Facebook, they received a letter from management stating they had until the next day, Aug. 3 to replace a broken window and an air conditioning unit and make significant repairs to the skirting and deck.

“They know I can’t afford a lawyer, which is why they do this,” the resident said. “The reason the person yesterday wanted to remain anonymous is because they retaliate. Because they absolutely 100 percent do.”

The resident said the manager explicitly referred to the resident’s Facebook post “bad-mouthing” the park, and dared the resident to get a lawyer. The resident said the manager told them to either comply or “move my house and get the fuck out.”

Water well at Creekside mobile home park. (File photo by Steve Southwell)

Some have said they worry that management will find reasons to fine them or they will suddenly be asked to make expensive repairs, as the resident above was. Others are worried they’ll be evicted outright, and say that they can’t afford to find another home.

The Texas Young Lawyers’ Association Tenant’s Rights Handbook states that it is illegal to evict tenants, raise their rent or decrease their services within six months of making several different complaints, including to a non-profit agency, but enforcing this would require going to court.

Lewisville’s options

The city has been looking into ways it can help Creekside residents since at least February, but options are limited. Creekside is licensed by the state as an independent water system, and the city has no jurisdiction over the utility.

Creekside has a legal monopoly on the water utilities services in its park through a Certificate of Convenience and Necessity, a state-issued permit that allows for private utilities services in locations where local governments can’t or don’t serve the need. The Creekside system is adjacent to both Lewisville’s and Flower Mound’s water services.

After being asked to bring water to Creekside residents when it went out Aug. 1, Lewisville doesn’t really know what the plan is in case of a water emergency at the mobile home park.  Community relations and tourism director James Kunke said the city has plans in case a fire breaks out, but isn’t set up to provide water to the private utility’s area, even in case of emergency.

“The city reached out to Salvation Army for immediate response yesterday because those are Lewisville residents and their welfare is important to us, but there is no mechanism in place for the city to back up Creekside’s independent water supply,” he said. “We would be interested in meeting with the owner/operator of the water system to discuss ways they could improve the reliability of their system.”

Editor’s note: This story previously reported that Creekside contracted with Aqua Texas for its water services. Aqua America spokesperson Gretchen Toner said that Aqua Texas ended its agreement with Creekside 18 months ago. The information has been removed from the story.

Here’s another update:

Creekside still refuses to answer questions over water outage