In Corpus Christi, residents scrambling following water supply contamination

By Eleanor Dearman

Residents in Corpus Christi were caught by surprise Wednesday evening as city officials announced a ban on using the city’s water after a chemical made its way into the supply, contaminating the water.

The announcement was made late Wednesday by the city. Thursday morning, a city official confirmed the contamination is from one chemical, Indulin AA86, according to a Corpus Christi Caller-Times report. Officials believe there's anywhere from three to 24 gallons of the chemical in the water supply, the newspaper reported.

A Wednesday release from the city attributes the contamination to “a recent back-flow incident in the industrial district.”

“In an abundance of caution and until we can investigate further and have the water tested, avoid all contact with the tap water,” the release state.

In response to the situation, several local school districts canceled classes Thursday.

Among those canceling classes is the Corpus Christi Independent School District, which has about 39,000 students and more than 5,000 staff members, according to Leanne Winkler Libby, director of communications for the district.

 “We do understand that it can always be an inconvenience, particularly for families with young children, but we felt due to the safety issue – in addition to the drinking water you have water for washing hands, water for preparing food and all that sort of thing – that the prudent thing to do was go ahead and cancel,” Libby said.

She said the district in continuing to monitor the situation.

The Caller-Times also reported from the scene of a local grocery store that had sold out of bottled water. Crowds of people were waiting for a new shipment to arrive by truck.

Three area members of the Legislature – State Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, D-McAllen, and state Reps. Abel Herrero, D-Robstown, and state Rep. Todd Hunter, R-Corpus Christi – said Thursday morning that they were monitoring the situation alongside the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, the Governor's Office and the Texas Division of Emergency Management.

“Public safety is our top priority and we are committed to ensuring that our residents have access to a safe supply of water," the lawmakers said in the joint statement. "Please be vigilant of all public notices and discontinue tap water usage citywide until further notice."

City spokesperson Kim Womack held a press conference at 1 p.m. Thursday where she said the city is requesting state assistance to aid with the situation. Cities in the area like Beeville and Taft are also helping to bring in water.  

At the conference, Womack said a donor has also allocated 27,000 cases of water to be distributed throughout the city.

It’s unclear when the water ban will be lifted.

“There have been no substantial changes in the ability to lift the water situation as we have it and it has been since last night,” Womack said. “We continue to work with the property owner. We continue to work with our state regulators. Our local delegation is continuing to work very hard to restore water as soon as possible.”

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune.

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