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TRWA Provides Emergency Assistance to Systems Impacted by Hurricane Harvey

Posted By Allison Kaminsky, Friday, September 15, 2017

On Thursday, August 24, TRWA activated its Rural Water Emergency Assistance Cooperative (RWEAC) in anticipation of Hurricane Harvey making landfall on the Texas gulf coast.

 

RWEAC is TRWA’s emergency assistance program created to help small and rural water/wastewater systems in Texas in the event of a natural or manmade disaster or other emergency situations. RWEAC is available to help bridge the gap when personnel, equipment and other materials are needed to help protect the health and welfare of Texas communities and customers.

 

Governor Abbott initially identified 30 counties to be in a state of disaster. Our emergency response team reached out to all TRWA member utilities in those counties—totaling 73 systems— to provide information about RWEAC and to anticipate needs as the storm approached. We also reached out to our larger RWEAC and TRWA member network to let them know we were mobilizing and to find out who was available to help and in what way.

 

Harvey made landfall as a Category 4 Hurricane with winds of 130 mph near Rockport, Texas late Friday night. Over the next several days, Harvey moved very slowly, dropping 40-52 inches of rainfall in southeast Texas, causing catastrophic flooding.

 

Our RWEAC first responder team, consisting of seven TRWA staff members, began traveling to our first staging site at Nueces County WCID #3 on Monday, August 28, and spent their first several days in the Corpus Christi area visiting systems, making assessments and providing assistance. They then headed up the coast to our next staging site at Quail Creek SUD in Victoria to continue response efforts in the area, as well as to the north and east of Houston.

 

“Through the efforts of many people, we were able to get situated close enough that we could begin our onsite initial assessments and start coordinating efforts,” said Jason Knobloch, TRWA Environmental Services Director, who acted as the initial incident commander and disaster area manager. “Thankfully, due to lessons learned and proper preparation, the first few days consisted more of calls from people and systems wanting to help than from systems in need. When a need did get reported, it was a rewarding feeling to confidently assure them that they were not alone and we were working with them to resolve their problem. I’m grateful to work with such a committed group of people and member systems that are eager and willing to help wherever they can.”

 

By the beginning of week two, the Governor expanded the number of affected counties to 50, and our emergency response team continued to reach out to member systems in the area. To date, we have contacted over 200 systems in these areas to check on their status, identify those who need help and learn what type of help they may need, whether it be in the form of generators, manpower, equipment, supplies, etc. We have also been working in close communication with TX-Warn, another “systems helping systems” network, and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to learn of affected utilities that may need assistance. 

 

TRWA owns and maintains seven generators as part of RWEAC, funded in part through a United States Department of Agriculture – Rural Development grant and through the TRWA disaster relief fund. TRWA has already helped a handful of systems with these generators, including Maruiceville SUD, the City of Smiley, Cape Carancahua WSC, River Oaks WSC, Nueces County WCID #4 and the City of Woodsboro.

 

Additionally, our larger network of TRWA members and RWEAC participants answered our call and offered equipment, supplies and manpower to help relief efforts. TRWA has been busy coordinating volunteers and resources from these systems. So far, 27 systems have received hands-on assistance from our first responders and RWEAC volunteers.

 

“When we put out the call for assistance, we received an outpour of support, not only from our RWEAC network, but from other organizations, such as the National Rural Water Association, other state rural water associations, USDA—RD, and CoBank. Knowing that we have our larger industry behind us has been so meaningful and heartwarming as we respond to this catastrophe. It really epitomizes what it means to be part of the rural water family,” said Lara Zent, TRWA Executive Director and General Counsel. 

 

For example, Holiday Beach WSC in Fulton requested assistance with finding and fixing leaks caused by power poles lifting and breaking water lines. TRWA identified RWEAC member Jonah SUD as having the appropriate resources available to help. Jonah SUD graciously sent manpower, machinery and materials to help them repair lines and to shut off meters running to damaged homes. Once they completed their assistance efforts, Jonah SUD then went on to help out other systems who needed additional manpower, including Orangefield WSC and Mauriceville SUD. Staff from Walker County SUD traveled to relieve the Jonah SUD volunteers on Thursday, September 7, and continue efforts to help Mauriceville SUD get their distribution system back on line.

 

Another RWEAC volunteer who has gone above and beyond is Allen Knight from North Collin SUD, who has worked with our TRWA first responders at a number of systems, including Mauriceville SUD, South Newton WSC and the City of Bevil Oaks.

 

“We just can’t say enough about all who helped throughout this event. The operators and utility staff who aren’t just employees, but live in the affected communities, worked tirelessly to restore safe water and sewer service even though they too were personally impacted,” said Celia Eaves, TRWA Professional Development and Training Director, who served as incident commander and disaster area manager after the first week of response efforts. “There was a willingness from other utilities to dedicate staff and resources to help their neighbors even though they’re over 300 miles away. It’s taking a collective effort to recover, and it couldn’t have been possible without the hard work and dedication to our industry that all these individuals have demonstrated.”

 

Harvey’s catastrophic impacts will be felt for months to come. As of the writing of this article, many communities east of Houston are still under water, so our team is waiting for the water to recede before traveling to that area and assessing the damage. Our first responders are still out in the field and doing all they can to help these communities get the safe quality drinking water they deserve.

 

Thank you to everyone who has reached out to offer resources in response to Hurricane Harvey. Remember, any water/wastewater utility in Texas can request emergency assistance from RWEAC by calling 1-866-586-6480, a toll free hotline that is staffed 24/7. It is free to become a member of RWEAC—systems can complete their application and mutual aid agreement online at www.trwa.org/rweac.

 

If you would like more information on RWEAC or how to participate in the cooperative, visit our website or you may email us at rweac@trwa.org. You may also donate to our disaster relief fund by visiting www.trwa.org/donations. Together, we can help get these devastated areas back on the road to recovery.

 

 

 

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Tags:  #txwater  emergency assistance  hurricane harvey  rural texas  rural water  RWEAC  Texas water  TRWA  water quality 

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