Millions still without safe drinking water in Texas

More than 8 million Texans still did not have access to safe drinking water as of Sunday night, according to multiple media reports and an update from the state Commission on Environmental Quality.

Stemming from last week’s record low temperatures and severe winter weather across the state that caused massive power outages, roughly 15 million people have faced water shortages in the past several days.

The power outages and unprecedented weather and extreme temperatures caused damage to water infrastructure, resulting in counties across the state to issue boil water advisories and prompted days of officials distributing bottled water to residents. Over the weekend, about 5 million of those boil advisories were lifted, but many are not out of the woods yet.

On Sunday, hundreds of boil water advisories including one in Houston, were rescinded as the city announced service had returned and water was safe to drink. But according to reports, more than 1,000 systems statewide are still reporting disruptions in service. Also on Sunday, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said about 30,000 people in the state were still experiencing power outages.

The governor also said the Texas National Guard, U.S. Department of Defense and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) had distributed more than 3 million bottles of water to residents.

An update from NBC News on Sunday shared a video posted to Twitter by an Austin city councilwoman showing hundreds of cars lining the side of the street for bottled water pickup near Austin.

Large systems like Austin Water urged customers with water service to their limit use while storage returned to normal levels. The utility also explained how such conservation efforts were assisting in returning the full system to capacity in a series of social media posts.

Texas AWWA Executive Director Mike Howe provided the following statement last Thursday on the situation:

Texas has seen a week of extraordinarily cold weather along with freezing rain and snow that taxed our electrical power providers and the electric grid. The cascading effects of this prolonged weather event has resulted in power loss to millions of residents and water systems statewide. Texans have struggled with the record cold without heat and water as well as limited access to food supplies due to supply chain slowdowns.

To the best of their ability, our utilities had prepared for this weather event by topping off tanks and making other preparations for cold weather. However, with the loss of electricity statewide, we watched utilities slowly exhaust their storage capacity and stop supplying water. I know all have seen the news reports. Those reports have been generally accurate.

In an extended phone call last night with the directors of many of the larger utilities, it was evident they remained committed to protecting public health while preparing for a return to full operations as temperatures rise and power is restored.

Howe added that the next step for utilities will be repairing damaged water lines as temperatures warm up, saying it will be a slow process to get back to full operations despite things moving in the right direction. Howe also added that After Action reports will help in avoiding a similar situation in the future.

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