EDITORIAL: Council should investigate last week’s water outage

Liberty Hill school district administrators should be commended for reacting quickly and having a plan in place to take care of students and employees who arrived at school March 21 to learn that there was no water.

By keeping the lines of communication open, administrators were able to effectively execute a plan of action to avoid more chaos and possible danger to students and staff.

The City of Liberty Hill, on the other hand, should have done more for its largest customer as soon as it learned of the problem. Regardless of the late hour, a courtesy phone call should have been made to warn of the outage.

If school district officials had been notified at 10:30 p.m. March 20 — the time the City Manager said the leak was discovered — there would have been time to notify employees with health issues or even let families know what situation they and their children would be facing the following morning. With more time, the first responders and schools could have done more to minimize the potential danger and inconvenience.

When its largest customer is charged with caring for hundreds of children, immediate communication from the City should have been the top priority. Instead, the school district learned of the water outage at 6 a.m. when a high school cafeteria worker arrived to start breakfast preparations.

Lack of water didn’t just mean that students and employees were placed in an uncomfortable situation. This was a safety issue.

At the very least, the City’s designated Emergency Management Coordinator — the Chief of Police — should have been notfied in a timely way so that the lines of communication between provider and customers could have been opened.

Chief Randy Williams said he did not learn of the outage until well after school officials were knee-deep in the execution of their own contingency plan.

After taking over the operations of the Liberty Hill Water Supply Corp. last year, this emergency situation offered an opportunity for the City’s new utility department to shine. It was an opportunity to demonstrate to everyone that the City of Liberty Hill is properly equipped, professionally staffed and ready to provide dependable service.

Instead, it appears the City failed the test at a time when the stakes are very high.

This incident occured on the heels of an ongoing dispute between the City and the school district over the provision of sewer and water services to the new high school.

The City denied wastewater service unless the LHISD becomes a water customer and allows the high school to be annexed into the city limits. A lot of strong words have been exchanged between the two entities, and the City’s failure to do its due diligence now raises questions that deserve answers.

Without a doubt, there will be utility outages from time to time, especially with an aged water delivery system that is taxed by increased demand and a short water supply. The City says it is taking steps to improve the water system, but that’s not the issue now.

A few weeks ago we encouraged all parties in the ongoing water dispute to beat their swords into plowshares and attempt to increase dialogue and seek common ground for everyone’s sake. That hasn’t happened.

Now it’s time elected officials on the City Council use their voices to ask more questions as to how it is that in a small town, even a simple courtesy call isn’t the norm at the first sign of trouble.

City water customers, as well as those in the larger community who trust that their families are safe when inside the city boundaries, deserve to know that the City of Liberty Hill is in the business of providing excellent public service. At every level of government, openness and accountability is paramount.

The community served by the City’s water system will be more confident in its utility provider if an investigation is conducted.

Regardless of the outcome, the public needs reassurance that the City has an emergency plan in place that actually works.