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Widespread water outages plague Odessa as crews rush to fix major water line break

Ector County’s top official issued a state of disaster on Tuesday as large swaths of the city remained without water and were under a boil water notice. Gov. Greg Abbott's office is providing state resources to help respond to the ongoing water outage.

By Mitch Borden

Updated at 5:47 p.m.

As temperatures soared to near 100 degrees, Odessans continued to face widespread water outages due to a broken water line. Repairs were taking city crews longer than expected on Tuesday, and the city began to distribute bottled water to those in need.

Monday evening, the City of Odessa found a major water line at 42nd St. and San Jacinto had broken, causing major leaks and a drop in water pressure. Hours later, a boil water notice was issued by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.

Crews worked to turn off valves to minimize the flow of water at the leak, according to the city. But that failed and the city was forced to take the local water treatment plant offline, leaving residents without drinkable water.

During a press conference held Tuesday afternoon, Thomas Kerr, the city's director of public works, said crews spent the majority of the day pumping water and excavating the roughly 60-year-old-water main to begin repairs.

Once the water main is fixed, Kerr said the city's water treatment plant would be restarted, estimating it would take 10-12 hours to restore running water to the Odessa area.

"As we have never done this before...we are making those predictions based on a good guess," said Kerr.

Kerr said the break is a sign of the problems aging infrastructure pose for Odessa and communities across the nation. Kerr admitted that there is a number of aging water lines in Odessa that need to be addressed in the future.

Ector County Judge Debi Hayes issued a disaster declaration in response to the situation and local leaders set up a command center just up the street from the broken main. Gov. Greg Abbott's office said Tuesday afternoon that state agencies are helping respond to the outage.

"I urge residents in Odessa to follow guidance from local officials and take the proper precautions to ensure their health and safety as we work together to restore safe tap water in the community," Gov. Abbott said in a press release.

With the city facing widespread water outages, Medical Center Hospital was forced to close its clinics across the city and canceled surgeries on Tuesday and Wednesday. Officials said the hospital's emergency room would still remain open at this time.

However, hospital officials are “asking that people limit their visitation during this time to avoid using limited supplies,” according to a press release from Medical Center.

Deputy city manager Phillip Urrutia told the local paper, that the West Texas Food Bank and other organizations are working to coordinate shipments of water to arrive, the first of which is expected Tuesday evening.

Republican State Rep. Brooks Landgraf, whose district includes Odessa, has said he’s also working with the Texas Department of Emergency Management to get more water to the city. Emergency supplies of water will be given to local medical facilities and nursing homes. Water to be given to the general population is also being shipped from state agencies and other resources.

Three water distribution sites were set up across Odessa, but according to a city spokesperson, each car will be allotted only one case of water. The city will stop distributing bottled water at 7 p.m. on Tuesday or when supplies run out.

The city will continue giving out water on Wednesday but hasn't established when that distribution will begin. Hours will be announced on Odessa's social media accounts.

Locals can pick up water at three locations: McKinney Park, located at 625 W. Pool Rd., at the Ector County Coliseum, 4201 Andrews Hwy., and FM 1936 and W University.

Even though running water is expected to be restored by Wednesday, a boil water notice will still be in effect until officials conclude that Odessa's water is safe to drink.

This is a developing story and will be updated as more information becomes available.

Mitch Borden is Permian Basin Reporter & Producer at Marfa Public Radio.