Kempner water Supply promises transparency on water reports
By LYNETTE SOWELL
It was standing-room only at the monthly board meeting of Kempner Water Supply Corporation on Wednesday afternoon as customers brought concerns to the board after a recent video on social media posted by the water supply company.
The video showed General Manager Delores Atkinson, Plant Manager Michael Lentz and several other KWSC employees drinking water from glasses with the caption, “The water is perfectly safe to drink.” A backlash about KWSC’s water quality followed online, and the video was later taken down and an apology from the board and employees was posted instead.
There was no mention of that video nor the apology during the meeting, but the KWSC board did have an executive session on its agenda, during which it held “deliberations regarding response to recent social media” as well as “deliberations regarding personnel.”
The video itself came on the heels of a phone call received on Friday, July 14 by B.J. Herring, an administrator of a Facebook group called “Lampasas County Breaking News and Information.” The call, recorded in a voice mail and shared by Herring online, purportedly came from San Antonio lawyer Justin Nail, with the firm of Davidson, Troilo, Ream & Garza, PC.
Nail requested that Herring remove a post made by a former KWSC employee on July 7, citing that it and many of the comments on the post contained “false and misleading statements” about KWSC and that “Kempner doesn’t want to have to take any sort of legal action to get this post taken down.”
The former employee accused the corporation of falsifying reports to TCEQ and that it encouraged employees to alter records.
At Wednesday’s meeting, KWSC board president Rex Hooten gave a statement before holding an open forum for customers.
“You all know our business is water. Our business is to give you good potable drinking water. Our business is not to give you anything unsafe,” Hooten said. “We have an excellent general manager who is dedicated and well trained. She cares about her job, she cares about this water company. There is absolutely no reason to distrust her. Things that have been put out in the media, please, all I can say is, please, look at the source, look at the facts—real facts.”
Hooten later added that one item posted in the media was a copy of a letter, allegedly from the Texas Rural Water Association.
“It’s got their letterhead, it looks official. It is not. We have a response here from TRWA, saying absolutely not,” Hooten said.
The main points of discussion brought up by customers during Wednesday’s open meeting were water quality and a call for more transparency and better means of notification to customers about their water quality and issues like line breaks.
Since 2013, there have been six public notice rule linked to violations, four in 2013 and two earlier this year. Also earlier this year, KWSC was assessed a fine of $515 from TCEQ, with one of the justifications on the enforcement order being “three or more enforcement actions over the prior five-year period for the same violations,” namely, failing to comply with the maximum contaminant level of 80 UG per liter for total trihalomethanes (TTHMs) based on the locational running average area, as per the Texas Administrative and Texas Health and Safety codes.
The elevated readings, four of them just over 80 UG/L at 82.8, 81.4, 84.1, and 81.1 occurred in October 2016 after one reading in August 2016 of 244 UG/L. There were four elevated TTHM readings in October 2015 as well.
KWSC customer Tammy Martin, who said she has been a customer for 11 years, said her family has had repeated kidney infection, UTIs, and gallbladder intestinal problems. Her three-year-old daughter was born with a third kidney, with doctors telling her the cause of the problem was either genetic or environmental. She said another friend who is also customer has a four-year-old who has had to have a kidney removed.
KWSC general manager Delores Atkinson explained during Wednesday’s meeting that KWSC installed an aeration system in May to help remediate any issues with the trihalomethanes. She attributed the sometimes brown color of some customers’ water due to manganese, which does not make the water unsafe. As far as “foamy” water appearance concerns, Atkinson said that is due to air in the water line.
Between July 8 and July 17, no fewer than 10 complaints about the quality, taste, color and odor of water in Lampasas County were filed with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.
Joseph Hopkins, an investigator with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality’s District 9 office in Waco was present at the meeting. Hopkins said he is presently in the area conducting investigation and testing for the complaints recently filed with TCEQ and that they take all complaints seriously.
“As far as TCEQ goes, all of our investigation reports, once they’re approved and go through our QA process, they’re open records. The ones that I’m completing as a result of this investigation will be open records. Any complainant that provides their name and address will get a copy of the report,” Hopkins said
Atkinson followed up on that by promising the investigation results would also be posted on the KWSC website. To further address a call for more transparency, Atkinson also promised water readings would also be posted on the website. She urged customers to call her anytime there is an issue with their water.
KWSC is listed as a non-profit corporation, run by an elected board from among its members, who are the water supply company’s customers.