Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Kelton Promoted to Executive Director of Operations

Shane Kelton’s promotion from Director of Operations to Executive Director of Public Works became effective March 1, 2021.  Kelton's predecessor, Ricky Dickson, served in that role from 2014-2019.

City Manager Daniel Valenzuela waived the Professional Engineer requirement for Dickson.  That waiver remains in place for Kelton.  

Kelton's new position is charged with identifying water users that pose a health/safety risk to the city's water supply.   City ordinances state:

Backflow prevention devices used in applications designated as health hazards must be tested upon installation and annually thereafter

Backflow Preventers. Backflow preventers shall be required by the Director of Public Works in [as] deemed necessary to protect the water system from possible contamination. 

He was invited to attend a March 31, 2021 training session put on by Texas Council on Environmental Quality.  

The City required Kelton to attend the TCEQ training on cross connection control programs.  TCEQ standards have been in place since August 2016.  San Angelo's training occurred six weeks after toxic chemicals entered the city's water supply, disrupting water supply city wide.

Oddly, City staff did not mention the TCEQ training in their final update to City Council on April 6, 2021.

The only other information the city produced on TCEQ's cross-connection control program was a March 2016 inspection.  That inspection found city staff using the wrong form to document cross connection control program inspections.  March 2016 to March 2021, that's a five year vacuum. 

The city's "not zero program" but far "less than rigorous and robust" could go back further than 2016.  Former Executive Director of Public Works Ricky Dickson got the job in 2014.

After Dickson retired his departments got shuffled around.  City Manager Daniel Valenzuela took the first stab.

Then Daniel divided Ricky's departments between the two Assistant City Managers.

The city has been challenged in keeping City Engineer and filling engineering positions. It remains to be seen if non-engineer Kelton can reverse that turnover in addition to preventing toxic chemicals from entering the city's water supply and repairing roads that make some San Angelo streets ride like off road trails.  

For decades Kelton has had an oversight role for San Angelo's streets.  Yes, there has been some serious oversight (failure to notice or do something) in more than one arena.

Tuesday, April 06, 2021

Council Hears of Inadequate Cross Connection Control Program

Elected officials heard from Water Chief Allison Strube that the City of San Angelo did not a rigorous and robust program to prevent cross contamination from industrial water users.  Strube said 25 out of 81 industrial sites needed to add or change their backflow assemblies.  That's 31% or nearly one third of industrial sites inspected by out-of-town customer service inspectors.

The Texas Council on Environmental Quality had standards in place since 2016 on customer service inspections and cross connection control programs.  Strube did not address the city's compliance in her statement the city had more than a zero program.

The path forward means meeting TCEQ's existing standards.

TCEQ will deliver an investigative report which the public deserves to see.  The question is how much will TECQ fine the city for its inadequate practices that led to the February 2021 toxic water contamination.

Friday, April 02, 2021

Council to Receive "Final Update" on Water Contamination

San Angelo's elected leaders will hear a "final update" on the toxic water contamination that traumatized the community in February.  Water Chief Allison Strube will give the update in regular session during the April 6th City Council meeting.  

The Texas Council on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) worked with the city on the contamination concern.  TCEQ has long required public water systems to have an effective cross-contamination control program, including customer service inspections and annual backflow test results.

Customer Service Inspectors came from McAllen, Lubbock, Brownwood and Abilene to inspect 85 industrial sites in search of the source of contamination.  City staff are yet to release how many sites were out of compliance and need to make changes to prevent future cross contamination.  Also, TCEQ is yet to release its report on San Angelo's toxic water incident.

The City of San Angelo plans to hire additional staff to ensure safe water comes out of the tap.

The City of San Angelo will be hiring several CSIs in the near future and will be implementing a more rigorous cross contamination program citywide to greatly reduce the likelihood of an issue like this happening again.

Why did the city not have such persons in place prior to the chemical contamination?  San Angelo city ordinances require annual backflow testing.

 Backflow prevention devices used in applications designated as health hazards must be tested upon installation and annually thereafter

Backflow Preventers. Backflow preventers shall be required by the Director of Public Works in [as] deemed necessary to protect the water system from possible contamination. 

City ordinances left it up to the Director of Public Works as to which businesses needed backflow preventers.  That's not Allison Strube.  It's Shane Kelton and former boss Ricky Dickson, now retired. 

I wondered if TCEQ inspections over the last four years identified San Angelo's cross connection control program as lax.  The City of San Angelo provided one TCEQ inspection report from 2016 in response to a public information request.  TCEQ cited the city for not using the required "customer service inspection report."

The city responded in 2016 with "customer service inspections are performed by licensed plumbing inspectors in the City's Inspections Department and they will begin completing the forms and maintaining them on file."

The failure to prevent chemical contamination cost the city dearly and exposed citizens to toxic chemicals.  City Council should make clear this is not the final update on the incident.  Council should ask staff to post all investigative reports, internal and external on the city's website.  

Accountable leaders would ask why the chemical contamination occurred and why the city's water department was unable to prevent toxic substances from reaching citizen's homes.  What program did the city have in place and how well did it comply with TCEQ requirements?     

Pushing a "final update" without hearing responses to those questions and seeing official investigative reports would be a disservice to citizens.

Update 4-12-21:   City Council heard the final update and thanked Allison Strube for her presentation and for her hard work.