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On a holiday weekend, Alpine residents told to boil water before drinking it

 A worker examines a water line break in Alpine on Christmas Day, 2022.
Catherine Eaves
A worker examines a water line break in Alpine on Christmas Day, 2022.

Officials said a boil water notice for the Big Bend area town could be lifted as soon as Wednesday after crews finished repairing a broken water line.

It wasn’t exactly the present the people of Alpine, Texas had asked Santa for, but they got it anyway: a Christmas Day advisory to boil any water used for cooking or drinking because of a major water line break.

The timing of the break was of course unfortunate, coming just as families were preparing to gather for holiday celebrations. But workers jumped on the problem and located a larger-than-expected leak that required replacing an entire portion of pipe, Alpine Mayor Catherine Eaves said in a Facebook post.

“I am grateful for these gentlemen, many of whom missed Christmas Dinner with their families in order to repair our aging infrastructure,” she said.

As of Tuesday afternoon, the boil water notice remained in effect, though officials said repairs had been finished on the water line break along Highway 118 near the U.S. District Court building that prompted the notice.

Officials said the city was awaiting water testing results from a lab in Odessa.

“Now we wait for them to complete the testing and provide us notification, hopefully in the next 24 hours,” said City Manager Megan Antrim.

According to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, people affected by a boil water notice should also boil water for things used beyond cooking like bathing and washing dishes by hand.

In Texas, local governments are required to issue boil water notices whenever infrastructure issues arise that could lead to unsafe drinking water. The notices don’t inherently mean the water is unsafe to drink.

The Alpine Police Department said in a Facebook post Tuesday it would be distributing bottled water to residents, with a limit of two cases per household.

Antrim said the water line break was discovered after residents started reporting low water pressure on a day when temperatures were in the single digits across the region.

“The assumption was the line froze, that wasn’t the actual case,” she said.

Instead, Antrim said crews discovered that the buried water pipe had apparently burst from wear and tear from dirt, sand and rocks.

“Basically, the bedding kind of gave and cracked the pipe,” she said. “And it wasn’t just a little crack, it was several feet.”

Workers ultimately had to replace about eight feet of pipe, she said.

In an interview, Eaves said the holiday weekend disruption points to a need to replace Alpine’s aging water lines.

“Some of the wastewater treatment pipes are back from World World II,” she said. “These things do need to be replaced, and I think we are going to see this occurring more often, and we need to make it a priority to get it replaced.”

Eaves said while the city is moving forward on an estimated $4.6 million wastewater treatment plant upgrade, there are not any specific plans in place yet to address the city’s aging water lines.

“Alpine hasn’t had a boil water notice in a very long time, so this is something that we’re not, the residents are not familiar with,” she said. “We need to put a plan together, and I think that will probably be at the top of our priority list after this event.”

Boil water notices have become commonplace for other rural parts of Texas that have aging infrastructure, as the Texas Tribune recently reported, with more than 2,400 such notices reported across the state in 2022.

Travis Bubenik is All Things Considered Host and Big Bend Reporter at Marfa Public Radio.