Texans rejoiced this summer when state officials declared the one of the Lone Star State's worst droughts over, but that announcement wasn't the only thing the spring showers spurred.
The Corpus Christi Caller-Times reports the more the rain came and watered lawns, the less residents turned on their sprinkler systems, which meant water moved slower through public water systems and began creating a bacteria-friendly zone when the summer sun brought high temperatures.
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Corpus Christi officials began seeing symptoms of that -- namely less chlorine in the system -- this month and opted to issue water boil advisories for certain neighborhoods where bacterial growth seemed most possible.
No harmful bacteria has been discovered in the city's system since the citywide water boil advisory in July, but the bacteria-friendly conditions don't self-correct, so the city was forced to change disinfectants to pure chlorine, utilities director Mark Van Vleck said.
The July advisory was caused by E. coli being found in the system whereas the September advisory was precautionary, but the solution to ensuring consumers' safety after the fact for both situations was to use the free chlorine treatment to create a fresh, clean slate, Van Vleck explained.
"We want to ensure all the biofilm is gone throughout the system, including the dead-end mains," he said.
Biofilm is a harmless, thin coating that's created inside the pipes by the city's normal disinfectant, but when it gets too thick it starts to dissolve the disinfectant, clearing the way for bacterial growth. That's why the chlorine-only treatment to kill the biofilm is necessary, Van Vleck said.
"That E. coli that was floating could have gotten into that biofilm and now be hiding to come out in some future date," he said of the July situation.
Still, when cities switch to free chlorine treatment, residents smell and taste the effects.
In 2015, at least 522 public water systems across the state -- including city systems and smaller systems, like RV parks -- have reported using the same free chlorine treatment process as Corpus Christi, according to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.
Many of those switches come with public notices about the water's safety and the only differences are the increased taste and odor of chlorine. Some Corpus Christi residents aren't convinced.
Amberlee Allee, a mother of two and a dog owner, told the Caller-Times in an email she's seen the effects of increased chlorine on herself, her children and even their dog.
"We have been bathing in this deemed `safe' water, and both my sons show signs of eye irritation (redness and eye watering)," Allee said.
And it's not just the children complaining. Allee said her own baths are becoming less frequent because her skin and hair have been damaged by the water, and the same is true for their dog, she said.
"My boys, ages 3 and 11 months, are no longer taking baths because sitting in the water is horrible for them," Allee said. "They are getting rinsed off if needed and cleaned with a moisturizing soap. (Their) faces are not being rinsed with the water as it burns their eyes."
Allee said she could accept "a day or two" of high-intensity chlorine working its way through the system, but she has a problem prolonged exposure and said, "being told that the chlorine levels are safe to drink and bathe in by the city is absolutely not acceptable ... for long periods of time."
When isolated sections of the city need a chlorine-flushing -- like Flour Bluff in July -- the utilities department can do that in a few days, but systemwide purges like this one will take about six weeks, Van Vleck said.
Allee thinks the city can do better.
"I am so upset at this and how the city has let it get this out of hand," she said. "It's a disgrace and the city should be ashamed ... We live in Texas. It is not in a Third World country, and we should have safe tap water."
Van Vleck and his team are spending the next month or so collecting data and evaluating it to develop a strategy going forward, because the conditions that led to September's water boil advisory could exist every summer after a rainy spring, Van Vleck explained.
"That's one of the things we're looking at -- is there a way to be predictive based on the weather in the spring?" Van Vleck said.
While the water may taste and reek of chlorine, no water has left Corpus Christi's O.N. Stevens Water Treatment Plant in Calallen with chlorine exceeding state or federal standards in at least the past eight years, interim plant manager Rafael Martinez told the Caller-Times this week.
All chemicals used to treat the water before it makes its way to homes and businesses around town are added mechanically at the press of certain buttons in a control room at the facility, and there's a monitoring device continuously testing the chemical levels of the water leaving the filtration tanks, which are the last treatment before distribution.
Staff also walks around the facility manually collecting and testing water at various stages every four hours to ensure the chemical composition is accurate, Martinez explained.
"For the public, every day (chlorine content) has been too high because they're smelling free chlorine -- it's very distinctive -- but it's not too high in terms of safety or federal standards," Martinez said.
He also added the complaints Corpus Christi residents have lodged about the concentrated chlorine treatment are not unique to this region.
"It's not specific to what the city of Corpus Christi is doing," Martinez said. "This is consistent with what users in all systems doing (free chlorine treatments) experience."
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