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Texas Rural Water Law: Fire Hydrant Controversy Continues

Texas rural water utilities and the attorneys representing Texas rural water companies are often faced with the challenge of making sense of the sometimes tangled layers of Texas statutes, Texas court decisions and the administrative rules of the Texas agency that regulates water utilities, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. As I indicated in a blog last week entitled “Texas Rural Water Utilities Faced With New Law: “Paint It Black!!”, House Bill 1717, effective June 15, 2007 (and now codified as Texas Health and Safety Code Section 341.0357), requires that a utility that provides fire hydrants paint black any “non functioning” hydrant. A hydrant is non functioning if “the device pumps less than 250 gallons of water per minute”. Because the statute does not specify over what period of time this standard must be met, it will almost certainly be interpreted by a Texas court to mean “at all times”. Many rural water companies simply cannot meet this standard 24/7, 365 days a year.A recent article by Michael Gresham in The Kaufman Herald illustrates that the controversy over this recent law is continuing. Rural water utilities are continuing to paint their hydrants black. Firefighters continue to disparage this practice on the basis that “this is not what the law intended”. As I have said before, water companies usually don’t get sued for acting contrary to what a law intended, but they regularly get sued if they do not follow what a law says. Instead of criticizing what the rural water companies are doing because they have no choice, hopefully the fire fighters will direct their concerns to the Texas Legislature!