Corpus Christi’s newly appointed water director knows a few things about fixing water system woes.
Clarence Wittwer’s career in utilities began more than 25 years ago in Seabrook, Texas, where his first professional memory was climbing into a hole in the street to fix a leaking pipe.
Now he’s been tasked by City Manager Margie Rose to repair a water department that’s become a punchline for Corpus Christi residents and visitors after multiple water quality scares in recent years.
Just don’t tell that to Wittwer. He applied for the job days after the city’s chemical contamination scare in December and considers the city to be home to “some of the best water in the state.”
The city’s recent streak of water quality issues “didn’t deter me too much,” Wittwer said. “Corpus Christi is not alone in that, because it’s an older city with older infrastructure.” Rose announced Wittwer’s appointment Monday, which was also his first day on the job.
While there are infrastructure needs with decades-old pipes in some parts of the city, Wittwer said the city’s system is better off than most. He pointed to the O.N. Stevens Water Treatment Plant as one of the finest of its kind in Texas and planned improvements like the four elevated storage tanks — two of which are under construction now — as beacons of promise moving forward.
He said a public information campaign is one of his top priorities as the new director to educate residents and visitors on what issues the city is facing and how he plans to address them.
“A boil water notice doesn’t mean there’s a problem. It means there’s a potential issue, but you’re being proactive in protecting the public,” Wittwer said. That campaign will likely include public meetings, social media outreach and talking directly to the public and in some cases using Facebook Live. “We’ve got to rebuild the public trust,” he said.
He praised city staff and the City Council for recent efforts to update the city’s backflow prevention rules, and said capital improvement budgets have reflected a coordinated effort to improve the system.
One of his longer-term priorities will be developing an internship program with local high schools, Del Mar College and Texas A&M University- Corpus Christi. The program’s goal would be to train qualified workers to replace a rapidly aging group of workers licensed to work in certain water department roles.
But for now, his focus is fully on the public’s perception of his department. “My biggest goal is to get this back to not being a joke (to the public),” Wittwer said. “Because I do believe Corpus has some of the best water in the state, and I want the public to see that.”
Matt Woolbright (@reportermatt)