AUSTIN, Texas — The Texas Department of State Health Services is back to work after a federal court blocked the state from releasing its water supply in the face of a lawsuit that challenged the state’s use of a toxic substance to treat wastewater.
A judge last month ordered the state to restore water from a large aquifer that is contaminated with mercury and other metals.
The state’s lawsuit argued the mercury contamination caused a health hazard, and the EPA and Texas’ Department of Environmental Quality had not acted adequately to address it.
The judge, who ordered a trial, said the state could not be allowed to repeat its mistakes by releasing the tainted water in the wake of the ruling.
But U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle on Thursday temporarily blocked the release of the contaminated water from the Ogallala Aquifer System in South Texas, saying the EPA did not have enough time to respond to a request to stop the release.
The ruling means the state will have to begin releasing the contaminated wastewater in the coming weeks, which could take as long as two years.
The ruling was a blow to environmentalists who were hoping to force the state into addressing the contamination in the Ogalala aquifer.
But Texas Gov.
Greg Abbott, a Republican, said in a statement that he would comply with the ruling and work with EPA officials to work with other states to prevent future contamination.
The EPA said the agency is reviewing the ruling before deciding what to do next.
The water that flowed through the Ogalla Aquifer is the third-largest in the United States.
The Ogallla is an aquifer formed when glaciers melted and then covered by sediment.
It is the only one in the country that has never been fully treated with mercury, a toxic chemical used for decades in California.
EPA officials said they had already conducted tests on the water before the judge’s order.
The EPA had already started work on the project to remove the mercury from the water and install treatment equipment in the aquifer, including a water filtration system.
But the agency said in February that it was still working on testing and determining how much mercury was left.
Agency officials said it would take about a year for the agency to determine whether the mercury could be safely removed.
The agency was due to release a preliminary report by the end of this month.