Reeling from a brutal storm, Texas now faces water shortage

Written by Jack Healy, Richard Fausset and James Dobbins

Power began to flicker back on across much of Texas on Thursday, but millions across the state confronted another dire crisis: a shortage of drinkable water as pipes cracked, wells froze and water treatment plants were knocked offline.

The problems were especially acute at hospitals. One, in Austin, was forced to move some of its most critically ill patients to another building when its faucets ran nearly dry. Another in Houston had to haul in water on trucks to flush toilets.

But for many of the state’s residents stuck at home, the emergency meant boiling the tap water that trickled through their faucets, scouring stores for bottled water, or boiling icicles and snow on their stoves. For others, it meant no water at all.

Major disruptions to the Texas power grid left more than 4 million households without power this week, but by Thursday evening, only about 347,000 lacked electricity. Much of the statewide concern had turned to water woes.

More than 800 public water systems serving 162 of the state’s 254 counties had been disrupted as of Thursday, affecting 13.1 million people, according to a spokesperson for the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.

In Harris County, which includes Houston, more than 1 million people have been affected by local water systems that have either issued notices to boil water so it is safe to drink or that cannot deliver water at all, said a spokesperson for the county emergency management agency.

Residents in the Texas capital, Austin, were also told to boil water because of a power failure at the city’s largest water-treatment facility. The director of Austin Water, Greg Meszaros, said that plummeting temperatures caused water mains to break and pipes to burst.

He said Thursday that power had been restored, and that restoring water service to health care facilities was a priority. The city’s reservoirs had been nearly emptied. “We never imagined a day where hospitals wouldn’t have water,” Meszaros said.

Compounding the problem was the fact that much of Texas was still experiencing cold weather and snowstorms Thursday, part of a havoc-inducing bout of winter weather that also prompted winter storm warnings in parts of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut through Friday night.

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