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No Water? It Might Be Frozen Pipes, Or Something Else

Phil Risinger turns on water to his home on Feb. 16, 2021 in Austin. Risinger and his husband had a water pipe burst in their garage causing minor flooding. The couple and a friend fixed the pipe.
Ana Ramirez/USA TODAY NETWORK via Reuters Co
Phil Risinger turns on water to his home on Feb. 16, 2021 in Austin. Risinger and his husband had a water pipe burst in their garage causing minor flooding. The couple and a friend fixed the pipe.

The San Antonio Water System reports the last blast of the Texas cold blitz will not freeze SAWS pipes underground. Still, during prolonged freezing weather, the utility frequently receives calls from customers thinking there is a water outage.

Frozen Pipes

SAWS spokeswoman Anne Hayden said the usual issue is a frozen pipe in the home.

Hayden said if you discover your house without water during the cold weather, here are some questions to help determine if the problem is in your home.

  • Check multiple faucets around the home. Are they all off or is it just one?
  • Check with your neighbors to see if they have water service.
  • Is your home heated? Were you away from home during the freeze?
  • Did you leave your faucets dripping? Cover your outdoor faucets?

Once warmer weather has returned by Thursday and Friday, it’s important to check plumbing in areas that might have frozen.

Hayden said broken or cracked pipes can produce lasting — and expensive — water damage.

SAWS will repair pipe damage from the street to your water shutoff, but all damaged piping from the shutoff and inside a property must be repaired by the property owner.

Something Else

SAWS officials said power blackouts are temporarily preventing some pump stations from distributing water because the pumps run on electricity.

“There might be a break next door or an adjoining neighborhood. And we're trying to move water. So you're essentially sharing water with two different neighborhoods, and therefore you have less pressure," said Robert Puente, SAWS president and CEO.

Some neighborhoods are also experiencing low water pressure.

Puente said water outages caused by problems with the pumps should last no more than a couple of hours and that people without water for a longer time most likely have frozen pipes.

However several downtown locations like Inspire Downtown apartment complex and TPR headquarters have had low or no pressure for several days. Inspire tenants were initially told this was a power-related issue — not frozen pipes.

A recent email from the building management team reads, “To be honest, I don’t think we will have water for a few days, if not longer.”

Tenants were allowed to fill buckets up with pool water to put in their toilet tanks so they could be flushed. They were also instructed to turn off the electric water heater breaker in their units.

TPR's headquarters has light or no water pressure on the top floors, but when given time to refill, water pressure does return to normal on the first floor only.

To drip or not to drip

Depending on where you live in Texas — and how cold it is there — you've probably heard that letting your faucet drip can prevent your pipes to freeze. That's true. SAWS President Robert Puente told The Source on TPRthat people in San Antonio should not worry about putting a strain on SAWS by letting their faucets drip.

"That amount of water does not put a strain on us," he said. "I would encourage people to let their water drip out of their faucets to ensure there's a constant flow in their pipes so their pipes don't freeze."

Officials in other cities, however, are telling residents this could waste water and threaten critical support entities.

Texans should check with their local utility provider for specific guidance.

What to do if you still have water — and want to keep it that way.

Despite a rumor on social media, SAWS has no plans to shut off water to the entire city.

However you can still protect plumbing from another blast of winter weather Wednesday into Thursday by following these guidelines from SAWS:

  • Wrap exterior pipes with rags and cover with insulation. Hardware stores sell insulated caps that easily slide on and can be affixed.
  • Leave cabinet doors open under the kitchen and bathroom sinks to allow warmer room air to circulate over the pipes.
  • If there are rooms without heating ducts, leave doors open to allow ambient heat in. Especially if the room is on the north side of the house.
  • Allow faucets to drip in various areas of the home to keep water in the pipes moving.
  • SAWS does not recommend applying heat to pipes to defrost them, which can start a fire.

SAWS also plans on issuing a boil water alert in San Antonio Wednesday afternoon.

TPR was founded by and is supported by our community. If you value our commitment to the highest standards of responsible journalism and are able to do so, please consider making your gift of support today.

Bri Kirkham can be reached at bri@tpr.org or on Twitter at @BriKirk