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Some San Antonians Without Power For 24 Hours, Others Lose Water During CPS Outages

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Updated at 9 a.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 16

San Antonio residents — including those downtown — lost water Monday night. According to a statement from the San Antonio Water System (SAWS), the rolling blackouts are affecting how quickly pump stations refill.

"We are troubleshooting each situation to ensure reliable water service. Customers may experience low water pressure in some areas of San Antonio," the statement said.

An email update sent to the Inspire Downtown apartment complex at 100 N. Santa Rosa St. said tenants could be without water until Thursday.

Updated at 6:30 p.m. on Monday, Feb. 15

Officials with CPS energy say most households without power in San Antonio are experiencing rolling blackouts to reduce strain on the state’s electrical grid.

Rudy Garza is the utility’s chief customer engagement officer. He says CPS Energy’s outage map will continue to show around 200,000 outages until the blackouts end.

He says fewer than 15,000 customers are completely without power due to equipment failures. Everyone else should be regaining power periodically.

“We will keep working around the clock. Our linemen are some of the best in the business, and we've got good partnerships out there, and we will keep working until every last customer that is facing an equipment failure is back on,” said Garza.

CPS Energy President Paula Gold-Williams apologized for the outages.

She says customers who are elderly or medically fragile should contact the utility for help, and that individuals experiencing a medical emergency, such as an inoperable oxygen tank, should call 9-1-1.

People who have power can help others by keeping the thermostat at 68 degrees according to Gold-Williams.

“When we're making it bearable but not super warm, that means that that kilowatt hour of power can be shared somewhere else where maybe it's colder and they can get it up to 68 degrees. It is extremely effective,” she said.

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Updated at 6 a.m. on Monday, Feb. 15.

The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) issued an Energy Emergency Alert Level 3 overnight triggering controlled, rolling blackouts by local utility companies across the state.

CPS Energy began rotating blackouts by neighborhood early Monday morning. Customers can expect the outages to last 10 to 15 minutes, but some may experience longer outages if power surges cause equipment failure during the restoration process. Customers can minimize power surges by turning off appliances, lights and other equipment.

“Rotating outages are necessary to help preserve the integrity of the Texas electric grid,” said Rudy Garza, Chief Customer Engagement Officer for CPS Energy. “It is crucial that we, along with other Texas utilities, implement rotating outages as directed by ERCOT. The mandatory request for load shed can be subsidized by residential and commercial customers doing what they can to reduce energy use.”

Experts predict near-record lows

Texas is in the grip of a rare winter storm system that will create near-record low temperatures. The National Weather said wind chill in the San Antonio/Austin area could reach -6 degrees Monday. It's the coldest temperatures recorded in the area since 1989.

Forecasters warn the region is far from being in the clear from the effects of the winter storm. Blistering cold temperatures are expected to persist for several days, allowing ice that already accumulated Sunday night to linger and new layers could potentially form.

“Tuesday evening we’re already seeing another round of winter precipitation kind of rolling in from the West coming in the overnight hours for San Antonio,” said Monte Oaks of the Austin/San Antonio National Weather Service office. “And more freezing rain and possibly some ice pellets are expected [Wednesday] and maybe changing over to sleet-ice pellet mix on Thursday.”

Texas is also dealing with higher-than-normal power generation outages due to frozen wind turbines and limited natural gas supplies. ERCOT asked consumers and businesses to reduce their electricity use as much as possible from Sunday, Feb. 14, through Tuesday, Feb. 16.

"We are experiencing record-breaking electric demand due to the extreme cold temperatures that have gripped Texas," said ERCOT President and CEO Bill Magness in a statement.

ERCOT suggested simple measures like turning thermostats down to 68 degrees, avoiding the use of large appliances and unplugging non-essential lights and appliances.

Dangerous roadways

The City of San Antonio and the Texas Department of Transportation have closed several highways effective 3 p.m. Sunday afternoon. The closures include all of 281 and I-10 from Loop 410 to Loop 1604.

Local authorities and TxDOT are advising everyone to stay off the roads if at all possible.

There have already been several traffic accidents around the city due to slippery roads. San Antonio Police Chief William McManus said the City of San Antonio and TxDOT may close highways and roadways on Sunday as conditions worsen.

"We don't want people on the highways, we don't want the barometer of how safe it is out there or what we should do to depend upon how many people are starting to crash when we want to close down the roadways, highways, or at least portions of them before that begins," McManus said.

TxDOT discourages travel statewide. All 25 TxDOT districts are working around the clock to battle the harsh winter conditions, TxDOT officials report.

There have been estimates of at least 1000 vehicle accidents on Texas roadways in the last two days. About 1,600 TxDOT employees are on duty, and are utilizing more than 1,000 pieces of roadway equipment, including 700 snow plows.

Although many roadways have been treated, officials say the effectiveness of the treatments will be limited because of the extreme low temperatures.

Motorists should use Drivetexas.org or call 1800-452-9292 for road conditions

San Antonio/Bexar County emergency declaration

On Saturday night, San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg and Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff issued a joint declaration to activate "the City of San Antonio and Bexar County emergency management plans. The declaration also enables the City and County to seek State and Federal reimbursements for services rendered in response to the severe winter storm."

“Play it safe and take the weather forecast seriously," Nirenberg said in a statement. "Stay at home if you can and don’t make risky, unnecessary trips when ice is on the road.”

“Bexar County is being impacted by some record low temperatures and icy conditions," Wolff said in his statement. "County Emergency Operations are in full effect to safeguard our residents as much as possible. However, this weather is shaping up to hang around longer than originally anticipated. We urge every resident to seek shelter from the cold, warm their homes safely, and to stay off the roads."

City services and business/school closures

All Bexar County school districts will be closed or will switch to remote learning on Monday. Some districts were already planning to be closed for President’s Day.

All Southwest School of Art college classes will be held remotely on Monday, Feb. 15, due to the anticipated winter weather. All Southwest School of Art community classes for Mon. Feb. 15 are canceled.

All South Texas Blood & Tissue Center donor rooms will be closed on Monday, Feb. 15, and all blood drives that day will be canceled because of the severe winter weather across South Texas.

Due to inclement weather, the Planned Parenthood South Texas central office and all Planned Parenthood health centers in San Antonio will be closed Monday, Feb. 15. Patients can visit ppsouthtexas.org for further updates.

All Texas Oncology clinics in San Antonio, Kerrville, Fredericksburg and New Braunfels will be closed on Monday, Feb. 15, because of inclement weather.

Due to severe weather conditions expected overnight and into tomorrow, all elective cases scheduled at Baptist Health System hospitals for Monday, Feb. 15, before noon will be canceled and rescheduled for a future date.

All COVID-19 vaccinations scheduled at the Alamodome on Monday have been rescheduled for the following Friday. Wonderland of the Americas Mall will not begin vaccinations until noon on Monday. Well-Med has also postponed vaccinations on Monday.

Due to unsafe travel conditions as a result of inclement weather in the area, Goodwill San Antonio is closing all facilities Sunday, Feb. 14, and Monday, Feb. 15. Status of operations will be reevaluated Tuesday morning.

H-E-B stores across Texas will close early on Sunday evening and open later on Monday, with some variations in specific schedules depending on the stores' needs and their regional weather conditions.

Stores in San Antonio/Hill Country, Austin/Central Texas and Wimberly/Dripping Springs will close at 5 p.m. on Sunday and be open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Monday.

Officials have decided to close the Alamo Sunday and Monday. Visitors who have purchased tickets for history talks or free-timed tickets to enter the church will have their purchases refunded or tours rescheduled at their discretion.

Haven for Hope and SAMMinistries were prepared for increased intake of anyone homeless. Emergency shelters were also prepared.

To ensure customer and employee safety, SAWS is closing payment centers through Tuesday, Feb. 16, at noon. SAWS employees will work remotely if possible, and SAWS will close the Las Palmas and Comerica payment centers. Phone and online services will remain fully available.

In a statement on Saturday night, VIA Metropolitan Transit explained that it planned to "suspend service beginning at 6:00 PM, Sunday, February 14, through 12:00 PM, Monday, February 15, when the most severe winter weather is predicted for our service area."

It advised riders to monitor the VIA website and its social media channels for any changes to specific service schedules.

Safety precautions

The San Antonio Water System urged residents to protect their exterior pipes during the freeze. Cabinets around indoor plumbing for faucets in kitchens and bathrooms should also be opened to allow heated air to circulate around them.

There are a few ways to keep pipes from freezing and bursting in the next few frigid days.

“Exposed pipe is going to freeze first if it's facing the wind,” said Ernie Cannon of Triple A Auger Plumbing. “It's just sitting out there naked. It'll freeze faster. Some material freezes faster than others. Galvanized pipes freeze and bust, even though you think it might not. Copper will do it quicker because it's a softer metal, but they all will do it.”

There are a couple of methods to prevent the pipes from freezing.

“Insulating, keeping it out of the elements like some kind of insulator caps for the hose bibs outside the insulation, wrapping it with rags. That'll do it to help the regular store-bought insulation. That helps if you don't have anything to protect it with, let the water run,” Cannon said.

Both insulating or wrapping the pipes and letting them run in a small stream should do the trick.

Plumbing experts also advised property owners to locate their main water shutoff valve near the street and learn how to turn it off should a pipe burst.

San Antonio Animal Care Services urged residents to bring their pets inside. The agency said they will have a zero tolerance policy for any reports of pets left outside, which could lead to a $300 fine. Violations can be reported to 3-1-1.

In the Hill Country, more freezing rain accumulated on elevated roads and bridges, power lines, and tree limbs, and froze into ice. Officials blamed icy tree limbs falling on power lines in remote areas for most of the outages.

The Hill County-based electric cooperatives, Pedernales Electric and Central Texas Electric, or PEC and CTEC, reported their repair crews were trying to keep up with outages. There were about 10,000 reports of power losses after the peak of the ice storm early Friday morning.

As of Sunday, the PEC reported around 101 outages and more than 3,100 people affected. The CTEC reported more than 9,500 customers affected by outages on Sunday.

Joey Palacios and Jerry Clayton contributed to this report.

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Kathleen Creedon can be reached at kathleen@tpr.org or on Twitter at @Kath_Creedon
Camille Phillips can be reached at camille@tpr.org or on Instagram at camille.m.phillips. 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.