Utilities Shut Off in a Disaster

The City of Rockport’s Hurricane Response Plan contains the provision to turn off water, sewer, and natural gas service in the event of a disaster. The reason for this is the protection of the water/wastewater systems and facilities and for safety in the case of natural gas.

The Rockport Utility System, which provides water service to Rockport, Fulton, portions of Aransas County, and two private water companies, has to balance the needs of its customers with the protection of its assets.

Our water storage facilities, particularly the two elevated water towers, can only withstand the force of a major hurricane if they are full. During Hurricane Ike, the San Patricio Municipal Water District informed the City that they intended to shut down their water treatment plant and pumps as the hurricane approached, which would leave the City without a replenishment supply.

Hurricane Dolly destroyed numerous private piers with water lines in Willacy County which completely drained all of their elevated and ground storage tanks overnight.

The Rockport Utility filled all tanks at the first notice of the impending hurricane. To ensure they remained full, the Utility was prepared to shut off the distribution system in phases, beginning with low lying areas. Based on the approach, size and intensity of the hurricane, other areas would have been turned off.

The Rockport Utility System would also have shut off power to wastewater lift stations. Lessons from Hurricane Katrina and Rita in other jurisdictions taught us that energized lift stations, when flooded, causes such extensive damage that it takes many months to restore the wastewater collection system.

With the expectation that Hurricane Ike would destroy homes and businesses along the water and in some cases inland, the Plan also envisions isolating portions of the natural gas distribution system. Broken natural gas lines where structures used to be brings the risk of explosion and fire. Due to Hurricane Ike, one of the two natural gas suppliers stated they “may suspend gas receipts and deliveries…beginning sometime during the day of Thursday, September 11, 2008.” As the Rockport Utility does not store natural gas, loss of both natural gas suppliers would effectively shut down the Rockport natural gas distribution system.

All of the Rockport Utility System plans are to protect the infrastructure and provide for safety so, after a disaster like Galveston is experiencing, the City of Rockport can measure recovery in days or weeks instead of months.