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Winter Storm Leaves Growing Number Of North Texans Without Water

People line up to collect firewood from a wood heap opened to the public Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2021, in Dallas. Groups of thirteen were allowed six minutes to load as much wood as they could carry away from the recycling center. (AP Photo/LM Otero)
LM Otero
People line up to collect firewood from a wood heap opened to the public Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2021, in Dallas. Groups of thirteen were allowed six minutes to load as much wood as they could carry away from the recycling center. (AP Photo/LM Otero)

After going without power, some residents in North Texas and around the state are now dealing with water issues.

Power outages have hit treatment plants, leading some cities to issue boil-water notices. Others are calling on residents to conserve water.

Carolina Jackson lives in Fort Worth, bordering Keller. She’s one of the people in that area living under a boil water notice.

"Once I found out, I was like 'oh great,'" Jackson said. "I don’t know how much we’ve already consumed so hopefully we don’t get sick, but so far so good."

Water to about 212,000 homes in Fort Worth Water’s northern areas should be brought to a rolling boil for 2 minutes, then cooled before consumed. That notice began Monday, and was expanded Tuesday to a larger group of customers. Some in Fort Worth have lost water entirely.

On Wednesday, other cities like Houston, Arlington and Tyler issued boil notices of their own.

Texas Commission on Environmental Quality is leading the state's response to this issue. Toby Baker who heads the agency told press Wednesday the situation is getting worse.

"As of noon today, there were 332 local water systems reporting impacts in 110 counties across the state, 276 issued boil water notices," he said.

There are about 7 million people in Texas need to boil their water to ensure it's safe to drink, according to Baker.

LouAnn Campbell is a public information officer for Public Works and Utilities with the City of Tyler.

"The water pressure is below levels that are required by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, TCEQ, and that water pressure maintains optimal safety for the water," Campbell said. "We can’t meet that pressure, so that’s why we have to have a boil water notice."

Tyler lost power to one of its treatment plants, dropping the water pressure. That power came back Wednesday afternoon after talks between city officials and the electric company ONCOR.

Power outages aren’t the only issue. There’s been a big increase in demand from customers, according to the North Texas Municipal Water District. It sells water to about 80 city utilities, including Plano and Mesquite.

"We’re having problems delivering water to the cities as fast as the cities are using it," said Denise Hickey, the district's public education manager.

Hickey said during a typical winter day, they deliver 250 million gallons of water. On Tuesday, they delivered over 350 million gallons.

"That’s 100 million gallons more just in one day." Hickey said.

The cause of the high demand is anything from more people at home, to burst pipes, to water main breaks.

Ashly Schilling lives in North Richland Hills. She said water pressure at her home dropped significantly Tuesday morning, and since then she's been stockpiling water in case it becomes completely inaccessible.

"I went into prep mode and started grabbing whatever buckets I could and started trying to fill those up," Shilling said. "We've been using that water to flush the toilet."

Steve Mace with the City of University Park said in the past four to five days, there have been about 15 major water main breaks — in a city of just 25,000 people.

"Many of the mains that we’re talking about are 40, 50, 60 years old," Mace said.

He added that the calls for meter turn-offs at houses are “countless.”

Mohamed Abdellatif lives in the Oak Lawn neighborhood of Dallas and said he's been without water since at least 5 p.m. Tuesday night.

He tried to brave the roads to get bottled water but said stores nearby were either closed or sold out.

"This is so brutal, with the cold and the freezing temperatures, and the snow, and not being able to drive, and electricity and water," Abdellatif said. "And at my place there's also no internet so it's just kind of all messy."

Cities are asking residents to conserve water: Take shorter showers, or skip showering all together and don’t flush the toilet if you don’t need to.

The City of Denton is also asking people to not drip their faucet if possible.

"We understand that, you know, the need to drip faucets is very real right now with the temperatures as low as they are," Victoria Nakamura, who works with the city, said. "So at this point, we’re really just emphasizing any form of conservation."

Dripping the faucet, though, is a longtime piece of advice for avoiding a burst pipe. Luis Pino of Fort Worth has a trickle of water coming out of all his faucets.

"I know my water bill is going to be hell next month, " Pino said. "It’s gonna cost me more if I shut them and then all the sudden everything freezes."

Millions of Texans are looking at another night without power Wednesday. The state's electric grid operator said the extreme weather has knocked about 185 power generators offline. Plus, temperatures will stay near or below freezing until Friday.

Got a tip? Email Bret Jaspers at bjaspers@kera.org. Email Rebekah Morr at rmorr@kera.org. You can follow Bret on Twitter @bretjaspers and Rebekah @bekah_morr.

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Copyright 2021 KERA. To see more, visit KERA.

Bret Jaspers is a reporter for KERA. His stories have aired nationally on the BBC, NPR’s newsmagazines, and APM’s Marketplace. He collaborated on the series Cash Flows, which won a 2020 Sigma Delta Chi award for Radio Investigative Reporting. He's a member of Actors' Equity, the professional stage actors union.
Bekah Morr is KERA's Morning Edition producer. She came to KERA from NPR headquarters in Washington, D.C., where she worked as a news assistant at Weekend All Things Considered. While there, she produced stories and segments for a national audience, covering everything from rising suicide rates among police officers, to abuse allegations against Nike coaches and everything in between. Before that, she interned for a year on Think with Krys Boyd, helping to research, write and produce the daily talk-show. A graduate of the University of Texas at Arlington, Bekah spent her formative journalism years working at the student news organization The Shorthorn. As editor in chief, she helped create the publication’s first, full-color magazine.