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Houston lifts boil water order nearly two days after system failure

The East Water Purification Plant after a boil water notice was issued for Houston late Sunday. (Mark Mulligan/Associated Press)

HOUSTON — The fourth-largest city in the country lifted a boil water order early Tuesday that had impacted as many as 2.2 million customers, closing schools and businesses and delaying elective surgeries after a weekend power outage at a city water purification plant.

After state regulators tested and analyzed water from 29 sites overnight, city officials announced shortly before 7 a.m. Tuesday that tap water was safe to drink.

“Customers no longer need to boil water before drinking, cooking, and making ice. Water quality testing submitted to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality has confirmed that tap water meets all regulatory standards,” the city said in a statement.

“The boil water notice has been rescinded. The water is safe to drink, brush your teeth, etc. I appreciate your patience,” Mayor Sylvester Turner (D) posted on Twitter.

The 276 schools in Houston, which serve nearly 200,000 students, were closed Monday and Tuesday, as were a half dozen smaller school districts nearby that rely on water from the city.

Turner had said the city issued the boil water order late Sunday after pressure dropped below state-mandated levels that morning at a city water purification plant because of a failed transformer and backup transformer. Texas allows cities 24 hours to issue a boil water order. Still, some residents and community leaders criticized the city for not alerting them to the problem sooner.

Turner said he would consult with Department of Homeland Security officials about how the city alerted residents to the problem. He said the water filtration site had received regular maintenance, but promised that an outside team would also conduct a diagnostic review of the transformers.

While areas surrounding Houston have issued boil water orders in recent months and other Texas cities have issued them this year, Turner said Houston has only issued three in recent years: during the statewide freeze and power crisis in February 2021, after a water main break in 2020, and this week.

Houston, led by Turner and other Democratic officials, is the largest city in Texas, a state dominated by Republicans. Water issues have plagued several cities around the country in recent years, from Baltimore to Flint, Mich., and Jackson, Miss.

Last month, the Environmental Protection Agency launched an investigation into whether Republican-run Mississippi agencies discriminated against the state capital of Jackson by refusing to fund improvements for its failing water system that led to water pump failures, a loss of running water and boil water orders that stretched from summer into fall.