Early water department workers battle weather in 'big balancing act'

Steve Nash
Brownwood Bulletin
Trey Allen, a water operator with the City of Early, stands next to a valve at the city's pump station on Salt Creek Drive Friday afternoon.

EARLY — In the City of Early's water pumping station on Salt Creek Drive, Wade Walker and Trey Allen were in "time out" Friday afternoon.

Not because they'd done anything wrong. 

Walker and Allen are among the five employees of the city's water department.

Throughout a long, cold and brutal week, dozens of public service workers throughout Brown County have labored heroically to try to keep utilities working. The communities of Zephyr, Bangs and Brookesmith remained under boil-water alerts Friday because their water systems were impacted by power outages.

Friday afternoon, Walker and Allen waited inside a building that houses pumps, valves, electronics and other equipment.

"We're kind of in a time out right now," Allen aid.

Walker explained they were waiting on workers with the Zephyr Water Supply Corp. to arrive. He said there was a task the Early and Zephyr workers needed to accomplish at the same time.

"They're scattered out working here and there," Walker said of the Zephyr workers.

 Walker and Allen were happy to note that a pump had just kicked on automatically, just like it was supposed to.

The two explained technical details about a valve that had refused to open earlier because of the cold.

"We had to come out here and bypass it, get it up and running," Walker said. "Once we got it going, we had to try to play catch-up after that. Saturday is when we started having electrical issues out here and we had to switch over to the generator."

It's been a "big balancing act" to keep Early supplied with water without other communities running short, Walker said.

This time of year, the City of Early normally pumps 250,000 to 300,000 gallons a day, and Thursday the city pumped 600,000 gallons, Walker said. He attributed the increase to leaks and to residents running faucets to try to prevent frozen pipes.

Allen said, "working together with Brownwood and Zephyr, it's really kept our head above water."

Monday and Tuesday were "pretty rough" with power outages, Allen said.

"We do it every single day," Allen said of the work. "It's just colder this time."

Early City Administrator Tony Aaron said via email:

"With the prolonged freezing temperatures, rolling blackouts, and complete power outages the City of Early and its residents have been fortunate to have never lost their water service or be under a boil water notice for days. It is by no stroke of luck that things were not worse.

"Our ability to weather the storm has been the result of several factors — first, by the Early City Council’s planning and preparation to install backup generators at most of our water and sewer critical infrastructure locations for situation just like this.

"The second factor is the quick actions and dedication of the Brown County Water Improvement District’s employees to maintain all of Brown County and Early’s water supply by keeping pipes, lines, valves, filters and a number of other instruments from freezing while being without electricity for many hours at the lowest temperatures of the storm."

Aaron also noted the "dedication and hard work of the City of Early’s public works employees who have responded and fixed water leaks, helped citizens deal with broken water lines in their homes and kept our water pump station and elevated water tower from freezing or completely shutting down.

"The loss of electricity is a bad enough situation for our citizens to deal with, but keeping their water flowing in, their sewer flowing out, and the trash picked up on schedule provides people with a ray of hope that we can make it through this, and we did. I am very grateful for all of these servant employees for taking care of our communities during this trying time."