July 20, 2012

At Eagle Mountain Lake, lots of water, but little to drink

Shortages and problems with a private water supplier have created a crisis for residents of two North Texas subdivisions.

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During the worst of last year's drought, communities all over Texas were in danger of running out of water.

Although many areas saw improvement when the rains came and the drought loosened its grip, water shortages have become a way of life for two subdivisions near Eagle Mountain Lake.

Cooley Point, a small community on the shores of the lake, and The Hills of Briar Oaks, just down the road in Wise County, are both on the state's high priority list because they have less than a six-month supply of water.

Residents of the two subdivisions, which count about 170 residences and a combined population of 500, say both the quantity and the quality of their water have deteriorated over the past three or four years. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality first got involved in February 2011, but the problems have persisted.

And they say explanations for the shortages from their private water supplier, Tim Bradberryof Boyd-based Bradberry Water Supply, have shifted as the problems have grown worse.

In early July, residents lost their water for about a day. When it returned, some described it as brown and disgusting. When it finally cleared, it reeked with a strong odor of chlorine.

Residents, it appears, have no recourse other than hope.

TCEQ spokeswoman Andrea Morrow said that the state agency provides technical assistance through a contract with the nonprofit Texas Rural Water Association but that it is up to Bradberry Water Supply to reach a deal for more water.

As the search for new sources continues, The Hills of Briar Oaks has less than a 30-day supply and is working to get emergency help from nearby Community Water Supply, Morrow said. The agreement, which lasts until Sept. 30, should be in place within the next two weeks, she said.

"It just keeps getting worse out here every year," said Robert Renfro, who was one of the first to move into the Hills 14 years ago. "It's gotten to the point where you don't want to take a bath because you're afraid you might run out of water."

On Thursday, "boil water" notices in place since May 26 were lifted in both communities, but that did little to ease the long-term problems.

Bradberry acknowledged the shortages and said there are no quick fixes.

"We just need more water," he said. "It's as simple as that."

Since last year, residents had believed that the solution was to drill another well.

But after his drill broke down several months ago, Bradberry decided against trying to pull more water from the ground. The aquifer levels deep underground, he said, have plummeted because of population growth and natural gas drilling.

"At one time we thought about drilling more wells, but it makes no sense with the way the aquifer has dropped over the last five years," Bradberry said. "It's just gone down, down, down."

Instead, he said, he will find another supplier. But it's not clear how fast those negotiations are proceeding.

Community Water Supply has no desire to provide water long term, Bradberry said. But Diane Edwards, general manager of Community, said Bradberry never made a formal request to buy water. If he did, the board would then decide whether it was feasible.

"He can vocalize all he wants, but we have had nothing in writing," Edwards said.

In fact, Edwards said Community was still waiting for Bradberry to sign the affidavit needed to provide the emergency supply of water.

Bradberry said he will pursue a long-term deal with Springtown's Walnut Creek Special Utility District to purchase water. Walnut Creek officials didn't return phone calls Friday seeking comment.

Even if that plan works, Bradberry said it would take a year or more to design and build a pipeline.

"I plan to talk with them in the next three or four weeks, but I've been working for four years trying to find another water source," Bradberry said.

That leaves Cooley Point and The Hills of Briar Oaks as two of 19 entities on the TCEQ's high-priority list.

Most of the providers on the list have identified a solution and determined the cost to find more water, but Bradberry's situation remains uncertain.

And some residents doubt his commitment to finding an answer.

His plan to pursue water from another company, for example, was news to Cooley Point resident Pam Stallard, who said Bradberry stopped working on a new well about two months ago.

"His latest story to us was, the drill got stuck," Stallard said. "That was his excuse for not finishing."

In early July, Stallard saw an ugly brown flow from her tap when the water pressure returned after the day-long outage.

"It was browner than the lake water," she said. "It was nasty."

Since then, the water has had a strong chlorine smell that has stunk up her house, making her leery to drink it even after the lifting of the boil notice.

"I don't think anybody drinks it," Stallard said. "Everybody I know buys bottled water."

The irony for Stallard is that she lives across the street from Eagle Mountain Lake but can't access water from the reservoir. She said some of her lakefront neighbors are able to draw from the lake to water their yards and plants, she said.

"You can tell by who has got access by their green lawn, and who doesn't 'cause they have a yard full of dead grass like me," Stallard said.

Stallard's neighbor, Wanda Blanchard, 77, sees Bradberry's explanations as a stall tactic.

"I just think he wants to spend as little money as possible until he sells the system to somebody else," she said.

Blanchard cares for her 54-year-old bedridden son, Randy, who lives in the house next door. The uncertainty over reliable water makes caring for him difficult

"There are times where you just don't know what to do," she said.

Bill Hanna, 817-390-7698

Twitter: @fwhanna

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