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San Antonio utilities prepare for the next big winter storm

Brian Kirkpatrick | Texas Public Radio
Texas Public Radio
SAWS staged mass water distribution efforts like this drive thru set up at SeaWorld after water pumping stations froze up across the city in February 2021.

The heads of CPS Energy and the San Antonio Water System said on Wednesday they have taken measures to keep the lights on and the water flowing during the next big winter storm, like the deadly one that struck the city in February 2021.

Tens of thousands of people were left without water or power or both for hours and, in some cases, days during a weeklong mix of snow, freezing rain, and subfreezing temperatures and wind chills.

Power went out to water pumping stations, leaving taps across the city dry. Heaters could not run, leaving residents shivering in many neighborhoods.

CPS Energy President and CEO Rudy Garza told a special joint meeting of the city-owned utilities' boards that he hoped to never again see its customers put through such hardships.

"I don't ever want our customers to experience the pain they felt ... from both our perspectives," he said. "And certainly, we don't want to be the reason why SAWS has trouble. And I think that our focus has led us to a solution that's going to provide the proper level of resiliency for San Antonio going forward."

SAWS President and CEO Robert Puente told those gathered at the special meeting, including Mayor Ron Nirenberg, that no other major U.S. city has done more to prepare for a repeat of such a storm in the future.

"Go ask other cities what that they're doing in response to an emergency, to resiliency," he said, "and you will not see them coming anywhere close to what San Antonio is doing to make sure that our citizens (and) our public is protected and can rely on the two basic things they always need to survive, water and power."

SAWS paid for expensive generators to keep water pumps moving in a big freeze, something that was not in place during the winter blitz.

Puente said CPS Energy will operate the generators that can also feed power into the grid. He said that power can be sold to create revenue that would be shared by the utilities.

Since the big winter storm, both CPS Energy and SAWS reported emergency communications have been improved between the utilities.

The utilities also regularly hold mock drills to stay in practice for such major climatic events, which appear to be a part of a new normal.

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