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West Texas Oilfield Town Runs Out of Water

Barnhart, a small community about 50 miles southwest of San Angelo in West Texas, has run out of water after the town's only municipal water well failed. Officials say that the water demands of oil drilling are a factor.

Southern plains bison from the Goodnight heard are raised for meat on Hugh Fitzsimons's SHAPE Ranch in Carrizo Springs, TX, February, 21, 2013.

Barnhart, a small community in West Texas, has run out of water.

John Nanny, an Irion County commissioner and an official with Barnhart’s water supply corporation, said on Thursday that the situation was serious. When reached by telephone, he was working on pumping operations and hoped to have a backup well in service Friday morning. A load of bottled water was on its way to the community center, he said.

The town has one main well that serves 112 customers, according to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. But the well stopped pumping quickly enough Tuesday evening, and while there is still some water in it, Nanny said, "We don’t want to get down to the mud." 

Nanny said he had checked for a leak but had not found one. The Barnhart area has been hard-hit by drought, he said, just as surging oil and gas drilling activities have increased local water demands. Barnhart was recently featured in The Wall Street Journal owing to the increase in oil boom-related railroad traffic through the town. (Incidentally, Barnhart's backup water well was drilled by the railroad in the early 1900s, Nanny said.)

Barnhart’s dire water situation was first reported by the San Angelo Standard-Times.

The main municipal water well could come back "with a significant rainfall event," Nanny said. 

At Barnhart's volunteer fire department, fire chief Jimmy Baker said there wasn't any water from the tap. But he said the fire station had a full tank for fighting fires and firefighters are drinking bottled water.

The residents of Barnhart are “pretty P.O.'d” about the water situation, Baker said.

Nanny said that the town was considering the possibility of getting a tank of freshwater from San Angelo, which is 50 miles away. Private wells were still supplying some water, he said.

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality released a statement saying it had learned of the problem on Wednesday.  

"The water system indicated that the water level in their only active well has dropped to the point the pumps are pulling air, the well recovery is very slow, and the system’s distribution pressure has decreased significantly," the TCEQ statement said. "On June 6, 2013, the water system issued a boil water notice as a precautionary measure due to the low water pressure. The water system is in the process of receiving approval from the Water Supply Division for a previously used well."

Barnhart is not the first Texas community to run short of water. Early last year, wells failed for the community of Spicewood Beach, near Austin, which then began trucking in water.

About 30 communities statewide could run out of water by the end of the year, according to a list compiled by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.

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