Residents of the Creekside Mobile Home Park in southern Lewisville have suffered frequent water outages for several years now. However, city sources and a new water operator are reporting that they have been working with the park to install several improvements in the system.
The mobile home park 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.
Residents have experienced interruptions in their water service, with varying degrees of frequency and severity, for several years. Sometimes they’ll go months without an incident, sometimes there will be multiple problems a week. Sometimes the water will go completely out, others it will simply lose pressure, but in all cases, residents are required to boil their water to clear it of potential contaminants after a service interruption for periods that can last as long as multiple days. One of the most consistent complaints against the park is of a failure to properly notify residents of the need to boil their water.
Of the several residents who have spoken with The Lewisville Texan Journal, almost all of them have asked to remain anonymous for fear of retribution from Creekside management. We have heard several stories of management enforcing the rules extremely strictly on residents who they suspect have spoken to the media, such as demanding that expensive or long-term repairs be done within a few days or work-intensive projects from older residents, often for violations that are let slide on other units. When asked why they don’t just leave, residents are again almost uniform in their answer – most can’t afford to.
The Lewisville Texan Journal has covered these outages and apparent water code violations extensively, but to our knowledge, the issue hasn’t received attention from other media outlets, and may not once the paper ceases regular operations this week.
Lewisville city officials have expressed anger about the situation in Creekside multiple times, and now, they are reporting that significant repairs have been made at the city’s encouragement.
Community relations and tourism director James Kunke said the city has been working to improve the situation at Creekside, and has made significant progress.
“The families who live in Creekside Mobile Home Park are Lewisville residents and we care about their health, safety, and quality of life. That includes having access to clean, safe drinking water,” he said. “We have been working with the management at Creekside and trying to help them find long-term solutions to the water system issues they’ve experienced. City staff identified a list of steps that could be taken to address the problem, and Creekside management has been working on those items. That working relationship has led to improvements already, and we are optimistic that the progress we’ve seen will continue.”
Assistant city manager Claire Powell said the city has held quarterly meetings with Creekside, with representatives ranging from the health and code enforcement department to the fire department. Powell said the park installed a supervisory control and data acquisition system, which is an automated system to keep track of the water supply. Such a system is required by the state for many public services. Powell said the park has also performed repairs on one onsite water pump and budgeted for isolation valves to be installed in the water system over the next few years.
Joel Brown, president of Creekside’s parent company RHP properties, said these isolation valves will allow the mobile home park to seal off any breaks in the water lines and prevent the need for a community-wide boil water advisory.
The changes at Creekside include a new system operator in Patterson Professional Services, who installed most of the improvements. President and owner Mark Patterson, who said he’d been working on the Creekside system for two or three months, said the system’s problems were a simple matter of it being an old water system that hadn’t been maintained properly.
“The system itself is probably a 1970s or ‘80s installed system, so just like a car, they wear out, so there are some challenges with older systems like that,” he said. “But nothing if you stay up on top of can’t be overcome. Really what they were suffering from was operator error.”
Patterson said when they first took over the system, they saw evidence of negligence, including a brand new booster pump that looked like it had been sitting and waiting to be installed for about a year. He said attention to detail would solve most of the system’s problems.
Patterson encouraged residents to contact him with any problems on his cell phone, 903-744-2599.
Throughout our coverage of Creekside, we’ve often wondered why the TCEQ didn’t step in and simply revoke Creekside’s ability to operate the water system. In conversations with TCEQ media relations specialist Brian McGovern, it seems that the commission’s enforcement system is set up to bring systems back into compliance, not to tear them down.
McGovern said that when the commission finds a violation of its water codes, it sets a date by which the system needs to come back into compliance. If the violation is fixed by that date, there’s no further action.
If the problem is not solved by the appointed date, the TCEQ goes into its enforcement process. Creekside experienced such a process in February when TCEQ investigators discovered there wasn’t enough chlorine, which is used as a disinfectant, in the water supply.
When Creekside wasn’t able to bring the chlorine levels up in time, it felt the TCEQ’s wrath to the tune of $431, with $86 of that deferred. That fine is less than a single resident’s monthly rent at the park.
While Creekside was fined in this case, based on a comprehensive list of complaints and investigations involving the utility dating back several years, most of the time the utility gets back into compliance by the TCEQ’s appointed date, and is then considered to be in compliance. The utility faces no consequences in these cases.
McGovern said state law allows the TCEQ to intervene in the operation of a water utility under exactly two circumstances – when the utility has been abandoned by its operators or when the TCEQ asks the Attorney General to sue to appoint a different head of the utility. Even in the second circumstance, state law only allows for the appointment of a receiver if the utility has been abandoned or has violated a final enforcement order by the TCEQ.
Another consistent violation was failing to have a licensed water operator — all Texas utilities are required to have a licensed operator attached, a role now filled by Patterson.
McGovern said that even if it had appeared the system had been abandoned, the TCEQ was hesitant to invoke its power.
“Although one may consider the factors of abandonment to have been met in any number of situations, because the appointment of a temporary manager or receiver involves taking someone’s business away, the TCEQ is very careful in its consideration of which systems to refer for temporary management or receivership,” McGovern said. “Typically, the TCEQ gives systems the chance to remedy issues through the normal enforcement process, which may take time. Accordingly, the TCEQ will usually only refer these cases in situations in which the enforcement process has been completely unsuccessful in resolving outstanding issues or in situations in which the system has been completely abandoned by the owner and operator.”
As long as Creekside continues to operate the utility, and as long as it continues to resolve violations by TCEQ deadlines, whether or not those same violations pop up again in a few months, it looks like $431 is as serious a consequence as it will face from the TCEQ.
Moving forward with water pressure sensors
The Lewisville Texan Journal is nearly ready to release a community-funded public service aimed at keeping tabs on residential water service in areas that experience frequent outages.
The service will consist of several monitoring devices placed in the homes of volunteers who live in affected areas. The devices will be connected to residential water lines and detect pressure changes. They report water pressure periodically to an online system that can then display water service status, pressure, and uptime.
The system is mobile-friendly and will be capable of sending email and text message alerts when it detects a water outage or restoration of service.
Thanks to funding from the community for development of the device and hosting for its website, the service will not cost anything to users.
LTJ Publisher Steve Southwell, a computer programmer and electronics hobbyist, led the development and programming for the device, with help from expert volunteers. Southwell is personally committed to finishing this device even after the paper ceases regular activity.
The system is intended to keep a solid record of how reliable the water system is, providing a record of failures and sending notifications directly to residents in case of a loss of pressure. Data about water service status could also be of use to firefighters, who may need to arrange alternate water sources when hydrants are down.
The device is undergoing final tweaks for reliability and battery life before being rolled out within the next few weeks.
LTJ is now seeking a limited number of volunteers willing to host the devices in their homes. Volunteers must have Creekside water service and a stable WiFi internet connection that the device can connect to. If you are interested, contact Southwell at firstname.lastname@example.org.