Why Is Our Water Quality SO Low in Rural Oklahoma and Texas?

People all over Oklahoma and Texas living in rural communities who do not have their own water wells consistently complain that they cannot drink the water out of their taps, their skin is dried out and cracking from bathing, and even their livestock’s and pet’s health are suffering. People in rural Texomaland who are not provided with safe drinking water are stuck in a state governmental, bureaucratic quagmire. 

Much of our water quality problems are due to state statutes and lack of resources and funding. Small and rural utility companies in Texas provide water containing illegal levels of elements not safe for human and animal consumption. Oklahoma State University’s Soil, Water, and Forage Analytical Laboratory process hundreds of water tests every week. 

When people complain to the Public Utility Division and Commission in Oklahoma and Texas, they come up against an impenetrable wall of either bureaucratic idiocy or a passing of the buck. A simple online search for water providers in Grayson County brought up the following list: 

  • Desert Water Supply Corporation:    5588 Texas 160, Whitewright, Texas.
  • First Choice Power:   916 South Bond Street ,Whitewright, Texas.
  • Greater Texoma Utility Authority:   5100 Airport Drive, Denison, Texas. 
  • Gulf Crossing Pipeline Co.:    460 Seven Hills Road, Denison, Texas. 
  • Kentucky Town Water Supply:   110 Britton Street, Tom Bean, Texas. 
  • Luella Special Utility District:    36 Lwsc Road, Sherman, Texas. 
  • Northwest Water District:   17363 Farm to Market Road, 901 Gordonville, Texas. 
  • Oak Ridge South Gale Water:   382 Farm to Market 120, Denison, Texas. 
  • Pink Hill Water Supply:    40 Ayres Road, Bells, Texas.

The Southwest Water Company (SWWC) is not included in that list—for a reason; SWWC is not local to Texas. SWWC operates in the poorest rural communities in seven U.S. states. SWWC is based in California. 

I can personally attest to the fact that the Northwest Water District in Gordonville, Texas, provides safe water. We in Sherwood Shores are so envious of that water company only four miles south of us. People in Gordonville and Cedar Bayou thank their lucky stars for their exceptional water quality. I happen to live in the Southwest Water Company district.  

One of the most predatory sources of the worst water quality providers in seven U.S. states, which serves several communities in Grayson County, is SWWC. SWWC is predatory and well connected with politicians in those seven states. SWWC serves many rural areas where it has more power than the people they serve with state governments. SWWC colludes with these state’s bureaucracies and they operate as lobbyists. 

Most rural utility companies are independent, and they do not wield the power of predatory utility companies which hold water rights in territories like SWWC does. After the big freeze in Texas, in February of the year 2021, my water pipes busted wide open with breaks all over the entire neighborhood system. My water bill was $300.

I was forced to make a deal with SWWC to pay off that $300 water bill. Their payment plan was agreeable to me. But there was a catch. I noticed after three months of my payments to SWWC that I was being charged way over $300. SWWC kept piling on extra charges. Public utilities cannot charge interest like bank and credit card companies. There was no signature of mine on our agreement plan that I made over the phone.  

I first filed a complaint online with the Texas Public Utility Commission (PUC). I wrote to Ken Paxton’s office and U.S. Senator Ted Cruz’s office, who fled to Cancun. The PUC investigated my complaint and wrote back to me that SWWC has responded and that SWWC claimed to the PUC that they had not overcharged me and their charges to my water bill stand. However, my next month’s statement payment plan was lowered by almost $200. SWWC tried to charge me, as near as I can figure, at least 50% interest.

So what happened between my complaint to the Texas PUC and SWWC’s response? That I will never know, but SWWC brought my bill down to what my frozen and busted water pipes spewed out after the big freeze really did cost. So how do we bring this down to independent rural utilities? 

Does it surprise any human body that here in the U.S., the most developed first world country on earth, that rural citizens are devoid of safe drinking water? It should not. Here is the list of states that SWWC operates in, and you may detect a pattern:

  • Alabama
  • California
  • Florida
  • Louisiana
  • Oregon
  • South Carolina
  • Texas

We must go to Oklahoma State University to find a few of the answers. Hailin Zhang, the OSU’s lab’s longtime director of OSU’s Soil, Water, and Forage Analytical Laboratory, reported, “Water quality varies so much. If there are multiple wells on one piece of land, you will see drastic differences in water quality.”

Zhang and his lab team most often conduct water testing and analysis for livestock and irrigation purposes, but his lab also offers an inexpensive screening test for drinking water at only $15 per sample. If the water is suspect, this lab can further test the water samples for E. coli and other harmful elements at a certified lab available through a private entity, county health departments, or the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality.

Try to get those same test results in Texas. In Texas, individual counties with resources offer water testing, but there is no state lab that I have found. According to national studies reported by the Texas Tribune in 2018, this publication found that dozens of public utilities in Texas supply tens of thousands of people with drinking water that contain illegal levels of radiation, lead, and arsenic.

In a study published in January 2018 by the Texas Tribune, the Washington, D.C., based Environmental Working Group (EWG) identified 37 water utilities serving nearly 25,000 Texans are in violation of federal standards for radium, a known carcinogen that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reports is not safe for human consumption at any level. 

The EWG reported that independent utilities in Texas serve small towns and rural areas, with a majority serving populations under 300. What do rural residents compared to the Texas population of approximately 28 million people as of the 2020 census matter? What does it matter if the rural populations of Oklahoma and Texas are provided with contaminated water supplies? I do not have that answer. Are these statistics that I have found telling the whole story?

One time, my best friend thought metals in her water well Wise County, Texas, were poisoning her. I was living in Oklahoma City at the time, and we could not find any entity to test her water for an affordable price in Texas. I took a sample of her water to an independent lab in OKC. 

Fortunately, it was not the water making her ill, and fortunately, her doctors uncovered an unknown treatable medical condition. You can try to contact the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) Water Supply Division at 512-239-4691 or [email protected], The TCEQ website does provide an online form to fill out. 

I know how bad the water is in Sherwood Shores. I have heard from the Mill Creek and Locust communities that their water is just as horrible as Sherwood Shores’ water. I will leave you with testimonies from my neighbors who have given me permission to post their viewpoints with their names and locations. 

The water is so toxic that no filter can even touch it! My body smells like a swimming pool and my clothes are bleached. I mean wth! My niece is a lawyer, but she’d not know this. I can certainly write a letter. I work in compounding pharmacy/functional medication and I’m passionate as well. I don’t always have tons of energy. I’ll tell you this water is making me ill. 
Jamie Osborn, Sherwood Shores

It wasn’t naught for Erin Brockovich!! The water and the cost of the toxic water is criminal. Someone should be accountable. We installed a Whirlpool whole house filtration system that uses salt to soften the water. It was about $800 and same size as a water cooler. Our skin feels and looks better, and we have saved our plumbing fixtures that froze up each year. We don’t drink it because it tastes flat, but it is safe to drink and for cooking etc.

Lisa Wood, Sherwood Shores

We’re in Mill Creek area and our water is not drinkable, even filtered, the taste is horrible. Also, we have two dogs that were dumped here 9 years ago. Currently there are two sweet dogs roaming our neighborhood that everyone is feeding. I’ve called every agency I can think of and no one was able to accept them. It’s sad. I’m so angry that people just dispose of their dogs.

Claudia Blalock, Locust 

I was wondering about your water. I can't drink it. It makes me sick. I had the same water company when I lived on the other side of the lake by Pottsboro. I called then about the water issues and they just don't care. I have noticed this week our water is cloudy. I guess the the water company had put chemicals in due to the tornado that we had. I know the pipes are old that are pumping water to my house. And I have seen people’s pictures of pipes that they have seen in the past on here. Why can't the water company come in and lay new lines to all of us?

Gale Armstrong, Sherwood Shores

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GOOD. Water normal stain; 67 degrees; 2.82 feet above pool. Striped bass fishing is excellent on live shad and topwaters. Anchoring on deep river ledges and flats in 60-80 feet of water fishing suspended around 40 feet catching quality and quantity on live shad. Top waters early along rocky banks where shad are still spawning. Catfishing is good using cut shad and prepared baits along the rocks in 20-40 feet of water. Free line dead shad or fish vertically along the rocks. Bass are fair using top waters early along the bluffs and on long points. Water temps in the mid 70s look for fish under docks and tires near marinas. Clear water is along the southern end of the lake. Crappie are fair using jigs fishing structure using electronics to locate active fish in 12-18 feet of water. Clear water is from TI point to the Dam and in the little mineral arm of the lake. Report by Jacob Orr, Guaranteed Guide Service Lake Texoma. Stripers are good, catching the better fish starting with topwaters early, then switching to swim baits in 10-20 feet of water to get smaller fish. Water is starting to clear up from the recent rains on most of the lake. The lake has dropped 3 feet over the last week, and should return to normal, if it does not rain too much later this week. Report by John Blasingame, Adventure Texoma Outdoors.

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