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Arsenic violations dominate Victoria County WCID 2

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PLACEDO, TX - Four health-based water system violations dominated a Victoria County water district the past two years, according the latest Environmental Protection Agency or EPA ECHO database report.

The culprit turned out to be arsenic contamination above the legal limit the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality or TCEQ allows. The contaminated water above 10 parts per billion is nothing new for this crossroads community.

In fact, some residents say they've had poor drinking water for decades. 

"When I came here I wouldn't drink the water at all," said Kathy Moses, a concerned resident who spoke to us on camera.

Placedo is a cozy town tucked away in the southeast side of the county. Above ground it's a paradise for the more than 600 residents who want to live secluded in the crossroads but below ground holds a secret most residents don't want to speak about on camera.

"(The water) stunk so bad and it was so dirty," said Moses.

The twelve water districts in the county include: Arenosa Creek Estates; Brentwood Subdivision; City of Victoria; Coleto Creek Mobile Home Park; Coleto Water; Devereux Foundation; Key Road Subdivision Water System; North Victoria Utilites; Quail Creek MUD; Victoria County WCID 1; Victoria County WCID 2 and Halepaska Country Lots.

Victoria County Water Control and Improvement District 2 received a total of four water violations in 2015, another four in 2016. According to the EPA, each violation was for arsenic contamination above the legal limit of ten parts per billion. Victoria County WCID 2 was the only district to report violations.

"So we stay in trouble with the state, a lot of people complain about the water and personally I buy my water."

Moses has lived in Placedo since 1990. Since moving to her home she says she has never consumed water from her home's faucet. Her younger daughter drinks out of it, but she doesn't. Our reporter gathered a sample of water from Moses' sink for testing at a TCEQ lab in Victoria, but didn't receive results before the story aired.

"There has always been high levels of arsenic, we're above what's allowed and always have been,' said Moses.

A few blocks down, long time resident Maria Solorio agrees the water in town has a bad reputation among residents.

"They are working on the sore and they are (WCID 2) also changing out the pipes so that we can have clean water," said Solorio.

She says she's one of the few in town that attends WCID 2 board meetings. She says the board is working to provide clean water , but some residents might not be aware of that.

"I used to complain and I still do but when I have something, they have always worked with me," said Solorio. "When I have a problem I can call Mary Zapata."

In our first attempt to interview Zapata, who is president of the board, our reporter received a statement about new water tanks the board was installing to provide clean drinking water to all residents in Placedo.

Newscenter 25 wanted to know more than what was provided on the statement.

The board met earlier in May for a public meeting and we attended. The board was hesitant around our cameras, Zapata requested our reporter ask every board member for their permission to be on camera during the meeting. Our reporter reminded her that the board meeting was public and Zapata continued with the agenda.

"I know that sometimes our community thinks it's like an overnight issue but it's not. It does take some time for it to get to this point," said Zapata in an interview after the meeting.

Zapata is referring to the three blue water tanks that were installed by a Kirbeyville, Texas company called Simply Aquatics in February.

"The first stage was implementing and placing the tanks and the second stage is where they will implement the piping."

She says the tanks are connected to a single well underground. As the water comes up through the pipes, the water travels through each vessel extracting arsenic. That way when you open your tap, clean water will pour out.

The idea for the tanks came about in 2008 when the arsenic level in Placedo rose above the legal limit.

"Way back before I was president the arsenic level was high because of the drought situation," said Zapata.

It wouldn't be another nine years before the tanks would appear in Placedo. And now that they are here, residents are still waiting for them to operate.

"They made a contract with them a long time ago but Simply Aquatics never came in, never came in, never came in," said Moses who attends meetings regularly.

Zapata said approving the tanks by the TCEQ and raising $218,000 dollars through taxpayers slowed the process down. They had planned to have the tanks operating by April, but now have pushed it back til the end of May.

"That's why we are working so hard to get our tanks in because it belongs to Placedo."

After at least a decade of waiting others aren't convinced the tanks will operate anytime soon.

"They've (Simply Aquatics) taken too long and the board took too long getting on top of it as far as I'm concerned," said Moses.

Others are hopeful clean water will to return to their taps.

"I know I get impatient. I don't know about other people," said Solorio. "I want it done now, not tomorrow or the next day, but I think all in all they are trying and we've been patient." 

WCID 2 says once the tanks begin operating Simply Aquatics will monitor the tanks up to a year to ensure they are extracting arsenic as they should.

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