More than 1,100 water suppliers affected, nearly half the state’s residents scavenge for clean water.
Here’s what happens in Texas when nature so easily overwhelms years of poor decisions. As the week ended, more than 1,100 of Texas’s 7,000 water utilities alerted their customers to boil their water. Almost half of the state’s 29 million residents were affected.
There was no running water in much of Austin. In San Antonio, water was shut off to 30 percent of the city. A big apartment development in San Antonio burned to the ground because fire hydrants were inoperable.
Many small cities were unable to supply water to all or a portion of their customers. San Angelo, a West Texas city of 100,000 residents, alerted residents through its Twitter feed that water trucks would deliver to neighborhoods until 10 p.m. nightly. “They will start back up tomorrow morning to go by areas that they were not able to get to tonight,” the city said. “We ask residents to either leave their containers out or place them early tomorrow so that they can be filled.”
“A lot of neighborhoods, straight up, don’t have water,” said Sharlene Leurig, an Austin resident and chief executive of Texas Water Trade, a water market research and innovation group. “Has there ever been so many people cut off from water in this country?”
Likely not. Circle of Blue was not able to identify a comparable statewide disruption in water supply, and especially in the country’s second largest state. The deep freeze and its accompanying electric blackouts, water line breaks, and interior flooding also are bound to produce the largest weather-related financial losses in state history, according to the Insurance Council of Texas. The highest loss to date was the $20 billion in damage (in 2020 dollars) that Hurricane Harvey produced in 2017.
A sizable slice of those damages will unfold along the Gulf Coast, where temperatures were the lowest in 126 years. Scientists said the freeze will lead to a giant fish kill and harm the region’s multi-billion dollar recreation and sport fishing sectors. As waters warm, the extent of the damage will become clearer as tens of thousands of dead speckled trout, red fish, black drum, and all the fish they feed on float to the surface. “It collapsed the food chain from top to bottom,” said Dr. Larry McKinney, former director of the Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies, a unit of Texas A&M University in Corpus Christi.
Over the weekend water utility executives said they still did not know how long it will take to repair their supply networks – a few more days in some cities, maybe another week or so in others. Executives and government authorities were similarly baffled following extreme weather events in the Himalayas, California, India, Australia and other regions battered by the planet’s 21st-century truculence.
The end to the Texas water crisis is still out of view. When the emergency subsides, though, a seminal question will emerge. Will Texans express the imagination and resolve to reduce the threat from the inevitable next deep freeze, drought, or hurricane?
By Keith Schneider
Circle of Blue – February 22, 2021