Kenny Clemons had a simple message he sent to the Natural Resources and Economic Development committee during its session Wednesday at the Texas State Capitol – “Don’t ‘Flint, Michigan’ my Texas water.”
A Waxahachie resident for over 20 years, Clemons said he and his family moved out to Waxahachie in 1998 to live comfortably in a more rural area. It only took a year for Clemons to notice that the drinking water supplied by the Carroll Water Company was in poor quality and that something needed to be done about it.
“I’ve been dealing with this ever since Beyonce was still in Destiny’s Child,” Clemons ribbed.
CARROLL WATER CONTROVERSIES
As vice president for the Texans of Ellis County for Drinkable Water nonprofit organization, Clemons has been a voice in advocating for clean water for the county in the past several years. Clemons said complaints against Carroll Water were sporadic for a long time up until a few months ago.
That’s when Clemons said, “the wheels completely came off.”
In November last year, the Maypearl ISD temporarily shut down bus services alongside Mesa Road when about 10 leaks in the water line compromised parts of the road. According to a previously published story, it was the first time where a safety issue has halted service on that road.
“Children were forced to walk, in the dark, down a county road to a temporary bus stop,” Clemons stated. “I believe this repair was fast-tracked, but only after our Facebook group sent a press release to the local media.”
According to a previously published report, chlorine was also present in some damaged areas of the road, indicating a water line problem in addition to the pre-existing leakage.
The water line belonged to the Carroll Water Company, which according to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, has received 77 complaints in the last year across its approximate 500 water meters or connections.
Other complaints to the Carroll Water Company included the water being cloudy-looking and even smelly. The water quality was so poor that Maypearl resident Vaffial Sauceda had to spend $25-$30 a week to buy bottled water, stating that the Carroll Water Company has made living in their home of 32 years a “nightmare.”
Other water supply companies, such as Buena Vista, South Ellis County, Mountain Peak and Sardis Lone Elm, have over 13,000 connections and 22 complaints since June 2003, according to TCEQ. Ellis County Pct. 3 County Commissioner Paul Perry even remarked that he went for two and a half days without water this past week.
“This is not just one story of one water company,” Perry expressed. “This is a statewide problem. I can’t stress that enough. This is happening all over the state – especially in the growth areas.”
After the bus incident alongside Mesa Road, Clemons had enough. He and TECDW went to State Senator Brian Birdwell and Representative John Wray to urge them to take a more active role in giving TCEQ more authority so they could hold companies like the Carroll Water Company accountable.
The reps responded by hosting a water utility meeting later that month in cooperation with the Public Utility Commission and TCEQ at the Coleman Junior High Fine Arts Center. It was there that the reps had an idea for a series of bills that would give “more teeth” into oversight for these water supply companies.
The first of these bills is Senate Bill 530.
SB 530, which is authored by Birdwell, is an act that raises the civil penalties for violations of laws protecting drinking water, public water supplies and other bodies of water. According to the bill, the act raises the civil penalty from $1,000 to $5,000 for each violation. Each day of a violation constitutes a separate violation under current law.
Birdwell invited Clemons to the Natural Resources and Economic Development committee session to testify in support of the measure during the bill’s public hearing Wednesday – and Clemons brought along his 14-year-old daughter, Sydney, for the trip.
“Not sure if she was excited to see the process, or just to get out of school,” Clemons remarked.
"DON'T 'FLINT, MICHIGAN' MY TEXAS WATER"
Kenny and Sydney woke up early Wednesday morning and left the house by 5 a.m. so they could make it to the Capitol in time for its 9 a.m. session. Clemons said he was very eager to testify, but he was notified that he had to keep his remarks under three minutes. So he rehearsed his lines over and over again to make sure he said what he needed to under the time limit.
“I was nervous,” he expressed. “I practiced the night before. I kept practicing, practicing on the way down there, practicing before just to make sure I was under three minutes.”
When he and Sydney got to the Capitol at around 8 a.m., they waited in Birdwell’s office before they were directed to the session. Clemons said he and Sydney “hurried up and waited” for an hour and a half before it was finally his turn to testify.
“It was quite intimidating,” he recalled. “But I was excited to finally get up there and speak my mind.”
He ended his testimony with a request to the commission – do not allow a privately-owned water supply to “Flint, Michigan” their Texas water.
“They knew there was an issue for a very, very long time,” Clemons explained. “People just kept it going, and kept it going, and kept pushing it down the road until finally, the community got involved. We’re complaining. Listen to us.”
Upon the conclusion of his remarks, Clemons received a slight grin from Birdwell before the committee moved on to the next agenda item.
“That kind of gave me confirmation that I did a good job,” Clemons expressed.
'THIS IS THE FIRST STEP'
Upon the public hearing’s closing, the committee voted in favor of reporting the bill to the State Senate with a recommendation of passing the bill. When Kenny and Sydney made their way back to Birdwell’s office, they were met with high-fives and compliments on the excellent job he did with his testimony. Wray even made his way down to commend Clemons personally.
Yet, the legislation’s work is far from over. Wray has only recently introduced the house equivalent of the bill, HB 1267. He invited Clemons to testify on behalf of that bill in the future as well, though when exactly his office is still deliberating upon.
Still, Clemons is proud of the work he’s done so far. He hopes that State Legislature will consider himself, his neighbors and his family as they deliberate on the bill in the future.
“This is by no means the solution to our problem,” Clemons iterated. “But it starts the process to hold these privately owned water supply companies accountable.”
Perry stated he is in support of the bill and commended Clemons for taking initiative in choosing to testify. He also complimented Birdwell and Wray for being so receptive and proactive in hearing Clemons’ concerns and following up with proactive legislation towards the issue.
“Kenny has gone the extra mile to go and testify,” Perry expressed. “I couldn’t give any higher praise to the three of them. They’ve really gone above and beyond to do what needs to be done.”
Kenny and Sydney left the Capitol around noon and made it home around 5 p.m., ending his nearly 12-hour day. Clemons said he awaits the call from Wray’s office for his next testimony.
“This is the first step in getting things changed,” Clemons stated.
The Daily Light reached out to the Carroll Water Company for a comment, but their representatives did not respond by press time. The act may take effect Sept. 1 later this year.