A sign attached to a fence surrounding water tower No. 2 near the entrance of Horseshoe Bend says it all.
“Animals are starting to die.”
Thursday was the community’s third day without water and the third period of time without water since May. They’ve been on a boil water advisory for more than a year.
The subdivision is in rural Parker County and is surrounded by the Brazos River on three sides. It’s a flood-prone neighborhood that was last hit with high waters in 2016.
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Residents say Horseshoe Bend is mostly known for not having enough water.
One of them, Teresa Batton, said it feels like her cries for help have gone unnoticed.
“This shouldn’t be an issue,” she said.
Batton mostly worries about caring for her 6-year-old daughter, Olivia, who was diagnosed last year with Stage IV neuroblastoma — a type of cancer that causes cells in the body to grow out of control.
“She deserves clean water,” Batton said, holding Olivia. “The only thing the water department is consistent on is no water.”
Because of Olivia’s cancer, she must live in a near-sterile environment or risk serious infection. It requires a lot of clean water. When the family moved into Horseshoe Bend last year, they weren’t warned about the issues, Batton said.
For most people in the community, being without water is frustrating. They feel ignored and angry.
They’re having to skip showers, or borrow them at friends’ homes outside Horseshoe Bend. But for Olivia and her mom, it could mean serious sickness, extended stays in hospitals and large medical bills. A large number of the community is on fixed incomes, and buying their water supply is expensive, resident Linda Puckett said.
Batton and Puckett have tried complaining to Texas Rain, which operates the water system, but have shared experiences. Either no one answers the phone, they get a quick response of “we’re working on it,” or no one answers the business doors. The same thing happens when they try to reach Castle Water, which owns the water system, they said.
So they called the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. Puckett said she’s also contacted the Texas attorney general.
“It’s like no one cares,” she said.
Spokesman Brian McGovern of TCEQ said, “It’s too early to speculate what the results of the investigation will be, but I can tell you that when a violation is documented, the TCEQ follows an administrative enforcement process.”
TCEQ officials arrived Wednesday after receiving “numerous complaints,” McGovern said, but residents were still without water on Wednesday.
Batton and Puckett said they were both told Wednesday morning that their water was back on. But just after noon on Thursday, Batton turned her kitchen faucet on. And then off. And then on again.
“This isn’t the first time they’ve said we have water when really we don’t,” she said. “We feel like they’re lying. Just be honest. Notify us if something is wrong.”
Outside one of the water towers, an employee from Texas Rain talked to Puckett on Thursday morning.
“There’s a really small leak,” he told Puckett. The company had fixed one leak earlier in the week, but missed the other. Thursday, they were mowing grass to see if there were any other leaks. The tanks were full.
At 6:16 p.m. Thursday, she sent a text message to the Star-Telegram with a video of fast trickling water.
“This is the current situation,” she said. “I’m not sure if it will improve but I’m super excited.”
An ongoing problem
Batton’s kitchen counter is covered in water jugs. One of her closets is filled with backups. She’s prepared because she never knows when the water supply will suddenly disappear, and she refills those jugs at the local Walmart.
What should be a $35 monthly water bill has turned into a $20 a week expense on water for her.
Even when the water is running, it’s not drinkable. And it has to be mixed with bleach in order to be properly clean for Olivia’s health, she said.
“You can see what it does here,” Batton said, as she lifted up what appeared to be a dirty dish rack. But it’s not dirt — it is corrosion from the water, she said.
McGovern could not say if the water provider will face penalties for the loss of water.
Ann Lewellyn of Mansfield is the president and director of Texas Rain Holding Co. She is also listed as the director and president of Castle Water, which has offices in Granbury, according to Texas secretary of state records. The phone at the Granbury office was not answered during repeated calls from the Star-Telegram.
If there is a violation, “the alleged violator would be sent either a Notice of Violation or a Notice of Enforcement, depending on the severity of the violation in accordance with the TCEQ’s Enforcement Initiation Criteria,” McGovern said.
“In either case, the respondent would be required to undertake all corrective action necessary to resolve the violation,” McGovern said. “When violations are serious enough to warrant formal enforcement action, the TCEQ is authorized to enforce correction of the violations and to seek penalties to deter future noncompliance. Proposed administrative penalties are calculated in accordance with the Commission’s Penalty Policy.”
Parker County Commissioner Larry Walden, whose precinct includes Horseshoe Bend, said his office has been flooded with calls.
“We understand there’s an issue,” Walden said. “We are trying to do our best to help them out.”
The county has filed an Open Records request with TCEQ requesting all the records regarding Castle Water. But Walden said they are urging residents to contact TCEQ if they have problems.