Feds force Lewisville into nutrition labeling on southern water tower

By Josh N. Yoo

When painting crews lowered the protective skirt Thursday after another day of painting the city’s 2.5 million gallon water storage tank, jaws dropped. Instead of the city logo and “Lewisville” that had been planned, workers revealed that the tank had been painted with generic “Water” and its Spanish translation “Agua.” Nutrition Facts labels were also present on the southern and western sides.

The elevated tank, located on Valley Parkway near FM 3040 is undergoing a $21 million refurbishment to clean and recoat the inside of the tank, paint the outside of the tank. They will also replace hinges and springs, install accessible restrooms for workers, upgrade the internet and re-spindle the oscillator for the unit’s freight elevator.

Lewisville spokesman James Kunke said that a federal regulation enacted since the painting had begun requires the labeling. “Newly-passed FDA regulations require that all vessels used to store potable water for sale to consumers must be labeled clearly in English and Spanish, and must have nutrition facts labeling,” he said.

“Staff tried to fight the issue with the FDA, but we have been told in no uncertain terms that we are required to label the tank in this way.”

The regulation, CFR 666 chapter H, paragraph 2, subsection O, was promulgated by the FDA earlier this year, becoming effective March 15. All vessels refurbished or painted after that date must carry the new labeling. The law requires that it be black sans-serif font on white background. There are specific rules for how much space the labeling must take up, and how many times it must be repeated.

FDA Region 42 director Joe Kinright confirmed that Lewisville is subject to the rule. “The regulation says all vessels storing water for sale,” Kinright said. “That includes storage tanks.”

“People need to know what’s in their water,” said Kinright, in response to a question about the purpose of the seemingly ludicrous regulation. “If it wasn’t labeled, how would you know that your city wasn’t adding calories or sodium to it? You wouldn’t!”

The move comes after a crisis in Flint Michigan, where caloric content in the water there has caused pipes and tanks to expand. The expansion caused seams to open and let lead into the water. President Obama called for the labeling shortly after the crisis came to light. By executive order, Obama also banned the use of lead bullets in cities and towns within 25 miles of a lake or river.

Governor Greg Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton were quick to respond to the new regulations, filing a federal lawsuit within hours after being contacted by Lewisville staff. “We pretty much have Microsoft Word templates for our lawsuits against the feds,” said Paxton, eager to speak to LTJ’s reporter about this subject.

“Obama has really done it this time,” he said. “The last thing Texans want is the federal government ‘protecting’ their water.”

Congressman Michael Burgess, who represents Lewisville, posted a YouTube video Friday morning, in which he lambasted the Obama administration for the overreach. “It’s reprehensible that the good people of Lewisville will have to look at that eyesore,” he said.

“Look, I’m a doctor. I went to medical school. I can tell you that water is calorie free. What this administration should be focused on is whether the water has the electrolytes that plants crave.”

Lewisville Mayor Rudy Durham said he didn’t care about how it was painted. “It’s a water tower. It has water in it, and the paint job says ‘water’. What’s the problem?”

“I don’t care if it’s got a smiley face, a lobster, that silly purple bird, or jingle bells. It needed paint, and we’re painting it.”

Mayor Pro Tem Neil Ferguson wasn’t quite sure what to make of it yet. “It seems like overreach to me,” he said. “But then again, I’m all about transparency in water.”

Crews are expected to finish painting the water tower by the end of April. According to the contractor’s website, they have several upcoming jobs in Flower Mound, Carrollton, Frisco, and Denton in the coming months.

New water towers are also required to meet ADA standards for the visually impaired. Each installation will have a kiosk with a motion sensor to detect when people walk by on the sidewalk. Speakers mounted along the sidewalk will announce “Water,” and read the nutrition facts labels audibly in both English and Spanish.

The City Council is expected to vote on a $4.2 million supplemental appropriation Monday night to cover the added cost of the nutrition facts labeling and audible label announcements. Water rates are expected to rise by just $1.92 per thousand gallons.

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