Jenn Studebaker’s family in Austin, Texas, burned chairs and pieces of bookcase shelves to stay warm this week. They made it through several days without power, in part by moving their beds close to the fireplace.
But now there is no water coming out their tap.
“The water’s not even bubbling. Nothing,” Studebaker told CNN.
Studebacker is among the millions of Texans who have gone through a devastating week of freezing temperatures and winter storms, only to confront a new crisis: overwhelmed water systems that could extend misery for much of the population.
Leaks caused by frozen pipes have pushed the state’s water supplies to the brink. More than 14.9 million Texans, more than half the state’s population, have disruptions in service, according to Tiffany Young, a spokeswoman for the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. More than 1,300 water supply systems and 62% of Texas counties are affected.
In Austin alone, the state capital’s water supply lost 325 million gallons due to burst pipes, Austin Water Director Greg Meszaros said during a news conference Thursday.
Mayor Steve Adler told CNN the extent of the damage to the city’s water system remains unknown.
“This is a community of people that are scared and upset and angry,” Adler said Friday. “We’re eventually going to need some better answers to why we’re here and how we prevent it from ever happening again. But for right now we’re just trying to get water.”
In Houston, the fire department received almost 5,000 reports of broken pipes this week, Mayor Sylvester Turner said Friday at a water distribution event. One line of vehicles at a water distribution event stretched for miles.
San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg told CNN’s “The Lead with Jake Tapper” that 20% of his city has no water and 30% has low water pressure.
He and other city officials are worried that as the weather warms the water infrastructure will break.
“We have been sending more water through pipes than we usually do in the peak months of the summer. But … there is no pressure,” he said. “The water is going somewhere. So there is going to be a catastrophic number of leaks and breaks in our pipe system and that is going to continue for some.”
Most people have power again
By midday Friday, the state’s primary energy grid operator announced the energy emergency was over after four days.
“Operations have returned to normal. Conservation is still encouraged,” the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, known as ERCOT, said in a tweet.
About 125,000 customers in the state were without power Friday afternoon, according to Poweroutage.us. About 4.3 million outages were reported during the storms’ peaks.
ERCOT operates about 90% of Texas’ power grid and has come under widespread criticism after so many homes lost power.
“Five days before the winter storm hit, the ERCOT CEO assured ERCOT, and I quote, ‘We’re ready for the cold temperatures coming our way,’” said Gov. Greg Abbott.
Abbott said he intends to ask state lawmakers “to mandate the winterization of Texas’ power system and for the Legislature to ensure the necessary funding for winterization,” according to a news release issued Thursday.
On February 8, ERCOT put out an organization notice about the upcoming storm, which hit three days later. It told power generators to put winterization procedures in place and to “prepare to preserve fuel to best serve peak load.”