Winter Storm Recovery: Boil Water Notices Expected To End Monday, SAWS Completes Water Restoration
The San Antonio Water System announced Sunday afternoon that it restored water to 100 percent of its service area, completing the final neighborhoods in the far north and northwest that lost water during this week's winter weather crisis.
Robert Puente, SAWS President and CEO, acknowledged some customers may still be experiencing low water pressure, particularly in neighborhoods that are located in higher elevations.
SAWS customers still without water are advised to inquire with their neighbors on their water status to determine if the outage is an isolated issue.
“So you might have an internal problem,” said Puente. “Please call us, we will try to diagnose it and try to help you.”
Boil water notices were lifted for over 80 percent of SAWS’ service area over the weekend. The remaining 20 percent is expected to follow suit once water testing samples render results by Monday.
Clear skies and clear roads provided the Alamo City a sense of normalcy following a week of historic snowfall and the catastrophic failures of power and water services. Sunshine and traffic signaled that life was moving on. But for thousands of residents, the crisis of the past several days still dominated the most basic facets of their daily lives.
SAWS set up free distribution centers around the city for residents to get clean water this weekend.
And further relief was in sight when SAWS officials announced that some parts of San Antonio could drink tap water without boiling it first. On Sunday afternoon, SAWS announced additional areas have been lifted from the boil water notice.
SAWS explained that its decision came after "completing the required water quality sampling, and in consultation with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ). ... SAWS is continuing to test water samples from other areas to release additional areas in the coming days."
Residents whose areas were freed from the boil water notice should run water from all taps for a minute to flush their lines before consuming the water.
The distribution efforts continued on Sunday for people who still need water.
"As long as people will bring their own containers, whether it's buckets or five gallon water bottles, we will fill them up for you for free," explained Anne Hayden, SAWS communications manager.
She said the water distribution centers were staffed by SAWS employees who volunteered from all areas of the organization, including accountants, engineers and software developers.
The centers are at the following locations:
- 13655 O’Connor Road
- 615 E. Theo Ave.
- 8910 Jones Maltsberger
- 7172 Hausman Road
- 1208 S. Loop 1604 West.
SAWS said they have closed two of the water distribution sites: 254 Seale Road and 10349 Military Dr. W near Seaworld.
The hours are 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day until further notice. To find the closest location, check SAWS.org/freeze.
The city of San Antonio, Bexar County and the San Antonio Food Bank also opened 16 more water distribution sites. The sites will operate on Sunday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., or until supplies last.
A statement from the city explained the sites would be open until March 6, and people would be able to take one case of bottled water per household per day. More information was available here.
The sites were at the following locations:
- Wheatley Heights Sports Complex — 200 Noblewood Dr.
- Brooks — Challenger Dr. @ Research Place
- Texas A&M University–San Antonio, Main Campus — One University Way
- Port San Antonio — 205 Billy Mitchell Blvd
- SeaWorld San Antonio/Aquatica — 10500 Sea World Drive
- Six Flags Fiesta Texas — 17000 IH 10 West
- Food Bank — 5200 Enrique M. Barrera Pkwy
- Our Lady of the Lake University — 411 SW 24th St
- Community Bible Church — 2477 N Loop 1604 E
- Heroes Stadium — 4799 Thousand Oaks Dr.
- Rolling Oaks Mall — 6909 N Loop 1604 E
- Bullis County Park — 27583 Old Blanco Rd.
- Julius Matthey Middle School — 20350 Red Forest Ln.
- Leon Valley Community Center — 6427 Evers Road
- AT&T Center — 1 AT&T Center Parkway
- City of Converse Community Center — 407 S. Seguin Rd.
The sites need volunteers. Those interested could register here.
Also on Saturday, New Braunfels Utilities and the City of New Braunfels planned to offer their water stations through Sunday until 3 p.m., where visitors could collect either water that needed boiling or purified water.
Anyone needing water was invited to visit the New Braunfels Civic Center at 375 S. Castell Avenue. "Residents need to bring their containers, sizes up to a five-gallon bucket, to the water station for filling," the statement added. More information was available here.
San Antonio residents quickly responded to the water distribution announcements. For example, a long line of vehicles weaved in and out of a SeaWorld parking lot, near West Military and Loop 1604, to pick up free bottles of drinkable water.
TPR asked one woman, who only identified herself as Erica, what she thought about the effort.
"It's wonderful that they are doing that," she said. "It's really appreciated."
Firefighters, SeaWorld employees and San Antonio police cadets volunteered to help. Police cadet Nicolas Schill was among those loading water into vehicles.
"It's been massive. It's been just nonstop cars," he said. "We've had to get real creative in directing traffic to avoid all the blockups or all the congestion going out into the streets." He added that by midafternoon they had handed out almost 2,000 cases of water.
Several drivers told TPR they went days without power or water or both and were growing tired of boiling water.
San Antonio ended a brutal week of historic winter weather with sunshine and steadily rising temperatures on Saturday. Temperatures were expected to rise in the 50s. Highs in the 60s and 70s follow into next week.
Pipes buckled after three back-to-back nights of record lows that culminated with a low of 9 degrees before sunrise on Monday. Sub-freezing temperatures stretched through several hours at a time. The National Weather Service reported more than six inches of freezing rain, sleet, and snow fell on the San Antonio area.
Assistance and investigation
Also on Saturday, the Biden administration approved a major disaster declaration for Texas, which releases federal funds and resources for people affected by the winter storm.
"Assistance can include grants for temporary housing and home repairs, low-cost loans to cover uninsured property losses and other programs to help individuals and business owners recover from the effects of the disaster," the statement from FEMA explained. "Individuals and business owners who sustained losses in the designated area can begin applying for assistance by registering online at www.DisasterAssistance.gov or by calling 1-800-621-3362 or 1-800-462-7585 TTY."
State, tribal, eligible local governments and certain private nonprofit organizations were also available for federal assistance.
A statement from Gov. Greg Abbott explained that the "Biden administration approved the request for Individual Assistance in 77 counties and for Public Assistance (Emergency Protective Measures Only) in all 254 counties."
President Joe Biden said on Friday that he hoped to visit Texas next week but did not want to get in the way of recovery efforts. A decision may come in the next few days.
.@GovAbbott and @TDEM are encouraging Texans to complete a damage survey to help us identify damages across TX from #winterstorm2021.— Texas Division of Emergency Management (@TDEM) February 20, 2021
This data is needed to provide information to @FEMA and highlight the need for federal assistance for individuals.https://t.co/5OToFAX4W3 pic.twitter.com/q7va1A0qGd
The general return of normalcy in many communities led to the next stage of the winter weather drama: the demand for accountability.
On Friday, Attorney General Ken Paxton promised to investigate the governance of the state's electrical grid.
The probe seeks to learn what went on behind the scenes concerning power outages, emergency planning, and energy pricing as Texans struggled to stay warm in their homes.
The Public Utility Commission of Texas, which regulates water and electric utilities in Texas, also opened its own investigation.
Status of water in San Antonio and Texas
Robert Puente, SAWS president and CEO, reported on Saturday that a small area on the South Side and the upper elevations of Fair Oaks and The Dominion will be the last to see service fully restored -- that should happen by Monday.
Puente reassured San Antonians to not worry about paying higher water bills due to broken pipes or dripping faucets to protect pipes.
Effective immediately, SAWS put in place a process to charge all customers the lower of two amounts on their next bill: either the total current charges for the current month, or last month’s current charges, whichever is lower.
To speed the repairs of broken pipes, San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg reminded residents that permits are not needed to make repairs on broken pipes five feet or less in length.
He said permits are required on jobs bigger than that or where there are multiple pipe breaks at a property. He added that those repair permits are free and work can immediately start without one to spare the city’s precious water resources.
“A permit shall be submitted to the Development Services Department on the next business day once all emergency repairs are completed by a licensed plumbing contractor,” Nirenberg said.
Nirenberg urged residents to be wary of repair con artists who often roll into a city after a large disaster to cash in at the expense of its victims. He said licensed plumbers can be verified rough the city website sanantonio.gov/dsd.
Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff also expressed no tolerance for scammers or price gougers and urged residents to report both to law enforcement. “Any complaints can be turned into our sheriff’s department, I would assume into the police department or the attorney general’s office,” he said.
Wolff said the county asked the federal government to supply the county with drinking water for distribution.
In a statement on Saturday, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality reported 14 million Texans remained under water advisories because of the winter weather.
As of Saturday morning, it explained, "1,445 public water systems have reported disruptions in service due to the weather, many of them leading to Boil Water Notices. This is affecting nearly 14.4 million Texans in 190 counties." It added that 64 notices have been ended as well. A complete updating list was available here.
TCEQ added that it asked the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Environmental Protection Agency for assistance in testing water samples.
It explained that to rescind a boil water notice, a public water system must do the following: "Determine that water in their system does not pose an acute health risk; Disinfect affected areas or the entire distribution system; Collect bacteriological samples and obtain negative coliform results; Return to normal operating parameters, including power restoration, required water pressure levels, minimum disinfectant residual levels, no excessive turbidity."
In San Antonio, city officials reported on Sunday afternoon 74 customers without power. Officials explained that those issues were due to equipment failures and unrelated to grid blackouts.
In a briefing Saturday morning, CPS officials reiterated that they would not cut off anyone's electric service due to non-payment, and they said they were working on plans to help defer the costs of what could be abnormally high CPS bills.
"We are committing to the community to do everything we can to minimize the impact of that, to spread it out, to find ways to to push the costs out through financing mechanisms and things like that," explained Paula Gold-Williams, the president and CEO of CPS Energy said on Friday.
Utilities in the Hill Country also made progress restoring power. Johnson City-based Pedernales Electric Cooperative reported on Sunday 99.9 percent of its 351,000 metered locations, including those in the Hill Country, had power.
Fredericksburg-based Central Texas Electric Cooperative reported 10,000 of it 42,000 members remained without power on Friday. On Sunday, it said crews were still working hard across Gillespie County to restore power by the end of the day.
CPS reported the Electric Reliability Council, or ERCOT, stopped rolling blackouts.
Nirenberg called the power outages suffered by San Antonio residents “unacceptable.” He called on San Antonians to continue to keep thermostats on 68 and unplug items from electrical outlets to help stabilize the state electric grid.
During ERCOT's press conference on Friday, CEO Bill Magness did not directly answer a question about whether the operator of the state electric grid accepted the reality and consequences of climate change -- particularly the risk of much more intense weather events.
But he did say ERCOT would review its seasonal assessment process in light of this record-breaking storm.
"That certainly sets a new standard," he said. "And then I think we'll be looking at those estimation processes in general. I mean, as we sort of go back and say, 'you know, what, what can we do to recognize what we saw here?' And how does that inform the way that we provide the information that we want to be as reliable as possible, as meaningful as possible, but also take into account potential extremes?"
ERCOT officials said all infrastructure operators -- from the power grid to water systems -- will need to reevaluate what level of extreme winter weather they prepare for.
During Friday's COVID-19 briefing, Wolff said that he wrote a letter to Gov. Greg Abbott to encourage him to back reforms to ERCOT this legislative session. Wolff said ERCOT needs to return to the regulated, integrated power system it was two decades ago.
Throughout the storm, there was at least one death and a dozen injuries.
At least one person died of hypothermia in San Antonio. Officials with University Health System confirmed the fatality Thursday and would not identify the individual due to privacy regulations.
There were injuries related to traffic accidents, but the most common injury hospitals saw this week were falls caused by icy surfaces. Nearly 200 patients were seen for a variety of injuries related to the falls, such as hip fractures and concussions.
Area hospitals have also seen multiple patients who need dialysis, have run out of oxygen, or lost power for their medical equipment.
The low temperatures saw hundreds of additional people coming in from the streets to stay at areas shelters. The additional bodies highlight the need that many homeless service agencies currently have for donations.
All three organizations also need financial donations.
The weather also caused mass spoilage in refrigerators across San Antonio this week, and long lines were met by empty grocery shelves. That meant more people with no food.
But Eric Cooper, the president of the San Antonio Food Bank, said help was on the way. “To think of a family that's dealing with the virus at this moment," he said, "and having these environmental conditions, it's just overwhelming."
To try to meet the need, the Food bank will have three mass food distribution sites at its headquarters, Rackspace, and Gustafson Stadium through the weekend.
The tragic weather drama in Texas was national news. Nirenberg appeared on CNN. MSNBC interviewed Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner.
Social media celebrated former El Paso congressman Beto O'Rourke for making thousands of wellness calls to senior citizens in Texas.
We just hit $4 million!— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) February 20, 2021
Reps. Sylvia Garcia, Sheila Jackson Lee & Al Green of Houston are doing incredible work w/ local relief organizations to get emergency relief to Texans.
Today we went to food distributions, water delivery sites, and home tours of impacted Texans. pic.twitter.com/5QzIgYvz8L
And New York Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez lent her star power to a fundraiser in Houston that raised several million dollars for Texans affected by the storm.
"We need to make sure that we make short and long term policy decisions so that this devastation, preventable devastation, never happens again,” she said, partnering with Houston representatives Sylvia Garcia, Sheila Jackson Lee and Al Green.
Jerry Clayton, Lauren Terrazas, Camille Phillips, Joey Palacios, Paul Flahive, Dominic Anthony Walsh and Houston Public Media's Sara Willa Ernst contributed to this report.
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.