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Winter Storms and Extreme Cold Impacting Critical Infrastructure, including Water and Power Services - Updated March 2, 2021

Winter Storms and Extreme Cold Impacting Critical Infrastructure, including Water and Power Services - Updated March 2, 2021

Created: Tuesday, March 2, 2021 - 10:52
Emergency Response & Recovery, General Security and Resilience

March 2, 2021

Numerous communities in the South are entering their third week of widespread impacts to water services, the result of severe winter storms and extreme cold that affected the region beginning in mid-February. Water service has been restored and boil water advisories have been cleared for millions in the past two weeks, but hundreds of thousands the issues remain and full timetables for restoration of services are often unclear, leading to desperation and frustration among many.

In Jackson, Mississippi, a system-wide boil water advisory is in effect and thousands of residents are without water. Residents with water services are being asked to lower their consumption as much as possible to speed up the restoration of city reserves. For the hardest hit areas of the city, officials have attributed disruptions to the distance between neighborhoods and the city’s water treatment plants. Over the course of the past two weeks, 80 water main breaks and leaks have been reported across the city. The city’s water maintenance department made significant progress restoring pressure to the system over the weekend, and water for flushing toilets was restored on Monday. An official had previously announced water service was expected to be fully restored by the end of last week. Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves dispatched the National Guard and more tanker trucks to Jackson to aid in the water crisis. No update has been given on when or if the state will request federal disaster relief to aid state and local relief efforts. Last week, Governor Reeves said that county and municipal agencies were working on damage reports and that he would request federal aid when those were completed. Read more at ABC News and Mississippi Today.

In Texas, nearly 400,000 half a million people are still under boil water advisories, according to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. At one point, nearly 15 million people were affected by weather-related water disruptions. But that number doesn’t include the people who can’t get water because their pipes broke in the cold. That’s a problem for thousands in Houston, where the city’s boil water advisory was previously lifted. Water distribution continues there, where about 10,000 people showed up to pick up cases of water and meal kits. Continued impacts to water services Numerous rural communities in Texas are also still experiencing, and they may be facing long recoveries given the extent of the damages and budgetary constraints. Read more at ABC News, Vox, and the Texas Tribune.

February 25, 2021

Since a peak of nearly 15 million Texas residents facing water disruptions on Friday, the state’s water situation has steadily improved. More than 1,100 boiling water notices issued after the storm have since been rescinded, including in Houston, Austin, Arlington, Fort Worth, San Antonio, Corpus Christi, and Galveston. Still, over 1.4 million people in Texas were reported to be experiencing water disruptions as of yesterday afternoon. More than 20,000 people were completely without running water because of water main breaks, mechanical failures, frozen or broken water lines or other issues, a Texas Commission on Environmental Quality spokesperson said. Systems with smaller customer bases make up the bulk of those with lingering problems. Approximately 600 communities with populations less than 500 are under boil water notices. Around 360 more with populations between 501 and 3,300 are also telling their residents to boil water before consumption. Read more at the Texas Tribune.

WaterISAC has also posted below the FEMA Daily Operations Briefing, which discusses critical infrastructure impacts and response and recovery efforts, including in the water and wastewater sector.

Last week’s winter storms and extreme cold could represent the costliest disaster in Texas history, potentially exceeding the $125 billion in damage caused by Hurricane Harvey in 2017. Whereas that storm primarily impacted communities near the Gulf Coast, last week’s disaster impacted every region of the state. "All 254 counties will have been impacted in some way by the freeze," said Lee Loftis, director of government affairs for the Independent Insurance Agents of Texas. "That is just unheard of." Given the impacts of the last week’s events, much attention is being focused on how to prevent similar situations in the future, in particular in terms of electricity and water services. Read more at the Texas Tribune.

WaterISAC has just updated its Power Outage and Black Sky Resilience webpage, where it has posted resilience measures that water and wastewater utilities might consider to maintain service during long term outages. The webpage also includes water treatment and emergency sanitation resources for community members.

February 23, 2021

Texas and some surrounding states continue to experience widespread impacts to water and wastewater services as a result of severe winter storms and extreme cold that impacted the area last week. In Texas, FEMA reports there are 1,259 boil water advisories in places, affecting 8.7 million people. It also reports 137 water systems are non-operating, affecting 123,000 people, and that 7 wastewater systems are non-operational. Bacteriological sampling is needed to clear boil water advisories, and FEMA previously reported that three mobile labs had arrived or were in transit to Texas, with original destinations of Fort Worth, Houston, and Austin. For Louisiana, FEMA notes that there are 311 boil water advisories, affecting 1.15 million people, and that 30 systems are non or partially operational, impacting 81,000 people. And in Oklahoma, FEMA reports 227 public water systems and 29 wastewater systems have been impacted.

While water services are in the process of being restored, there’s a major water distribution effort underway. FEMA reports there are over 200 locally managed water distribution sites supported by donations from local, state, federal, and private sector resources. Additionally, it also notes that 14 million units of water have been ordered, with 5.9 million units having been received and an additional 5.3 million units having been shipped.

Access FEMA's Daily Operations Briefing below.

Additionally, the Lousiana Department of Health maintains updated information on water outages, boil water advisories and cleared water systems here.

February 22, 2021

According to FEMA's Daily Operations Briefing (posted below), in Texas there are 1,337 (+223 from yesterday) Boil Water Advisories affecting 14 million residents. Additionally, there are 379 water system outages, affecting 123,000 residents. Two mobile water sampling labs have arrived in Fort Worth and Houston to assist with bacteriological analysis, and an additional lab is expected to arrive in Austin today.

In Louisiana, 307 (+24) Boil Water Advisories affect 1.26 million (-40,000) residents, and 55 (-20) water systems outages affect 97,000 residents.

February 19, 2021

In Texas, power has been restored for millions of residents, with outages at just under 200,000 this morning according to, but millions remain under boil water notices. About 13 million residents - nearly half of the state's population - are under these notices, according to the executive director for the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. Even after the power is restored, each water system will need bacteriological sampling to clear those boil water notices. The state is working with the federal government to bring in mobile labs to help do the tests needed to lift the notices. There are also still significant numbers of outages and boil water notices in neighboring states, such as Louisiana. According to the Louisiana Department of Health, as of mid-day yesterday 98 public water systems were experiencing water outages and boil water advisories were in place for 235 systems. Governor John Bel Edwards said at a news conference yesterday that more than 245,000 people in the state were affected by dozens of water outages and that boil water advisories affected around one million. Read more at NBC News.

Today's short-range forecast from the National Weather Service predicts a much quieter weather pattern for the continental U.S. over the next few days. The current system that is bringing snow and freezing rain to the Northeast and northern Mid-Atlantic, as well as rain and thunderstorms to the Southeast will taper off today while lingering snow showers will continue over much of the interior Northeast and New England through Saturday. And an anomalously cold week across the Southern Plains will begin to come to an end this weekend as an approaching area of low pressure pulls warmer air northward out ahead of it on Saturday. Before that, widespread low temperature records may be broken tonight over parts of eastern Texas and the Lower Mississippi Valley as high pressure shifts into the eastern half of the country.

Below, WaterISAC has posted today’s FEMA’s Daily Operations Briefing, which provides information on impacts to critical infrastructure sectors, including the water and wastewater sector, and current emergency response efforts.

February 18, 2021

In numerous cities and communities in Texas, water and wastewater services are unavailable or degraded and boil water notices are in place due to widespread power outages and water main breaks caused by extreme cold and severe winter storms. According to the executive director for the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, 276 water systems in the state issued boil water notices. These notices are reported to have affected a total of 7 million people in the state, a quarter of its population. In Houston, water and wastewater systems are operating at emergency pressure levels and experiencing system-wide low water pressure, triggering a boil water notice. Officials there have said the city’s water system is expected to become fully operational by the end of Thursday, though the boil water notice will likely extend longer. The nearby cities of Galveston and Port Arthur have also issued boil water notices. Austin Water has issued a city-wide boil water notice due to power loss at its largest water treatment facility. A city-wide boil water notice is also in place in San Antonio, where the utility indicated electric service outages are also impacting some pump stations and how quickly the storage tanks refill. As a result, it advised that customers may experience low water pressure in some areas. In North Texas, Dallas Water Utilities reports its system is stable and functioning, but numerous other utilities in the region have impacted services and led to boil water notices. A partial listing of the impacted communities includes Fort Worth, Arlington, Denton, and Mesquite.

Communities outside of Texas have also been similarly impacted by the extreme cold and winter storms, including in the neighboring state of Louisiana. According to the Louisiana Department of Health, as of mid-day yesterday 36 public water systems were experiencing water outages and boil water advisories were in place for 178 systems. In Lake Charles, the mayor urged residents to shut off their faucets yesterday to get water pressure back to normal levels. Water issues began after a citywide power outage. While water treatment plants had switched to generator power, the city’s water reserves were depleted. Elsewhere in the region, in Oklahoma City utility personnel were addressing 31 main breaks, leading to some water service issues, including at hospitals. And in Tennessee, the Memphis Light Gas and Water’s (MLGW’s) system was strained as a result of the freezing temperatures, leading to reduced water pressure across the system. MLGW also experienced reduced reservoir levels at several pumping stations and multiple broken water mains.

Snow, sleet, and freezing rain are continuing to fall in parts of Texas, but the storm is expected to clear out by the end of today. It is the second winter storm to have hit the state and other parts of the country in recent days, which have also featured freezing temperatures far below what the state is accustomed to. The frigid air is also expected to begin to moderate by the end of the week. Much of the electric grid has started to come back online, with power restored for millions. But grid operators and state officials have advised Texans that some level of rotating outages may be needed in the coming days as emergency conditions continue. Even after the power is restored and the ice begins to melt, each water system will need bacteriological sampling to clear those boil water notices. Meanwhile, the storm system is moving across parts of the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic, with the swath of heaviest snowfall forecast to occur from the Appalachians of Virginia and West Virginia to northern Maryland and southern Pennsylvania. Read more at the National Weather Service, the Washington Post,NBC News, and USA Today.

Below, WaterISAC has posted today’s FEMA’s Daily Operations Briefing, which discusses impacts and predictions for the severe winter weather and cold.

Utilities may also wish to share the following preparedness information with their customers:

  • Camp stoves or other portable devices for boiling water should only be used outdoors due to the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning from indoor use.
  • Individuals and organizations should consider employing a two-bucket toilet (additional pamphlet here) if they lose water or wastewater service.

February 16, 2021

Many areas of the U.S. are experiencing disruptions to critical infrastructure services, including water and power, as a result of extreme cold and severe winter weather that are still ongoing. The current winter storm has already impacted areas of the Pacific Northwest, the Midwest, and the South and is continuing to bring snow and ice to the Northeast today as it exits off the coast. Meanwhile, a second major winter storm will begin to impact part of the South today, bringing heavy snow and ice to areas recently affected before moving east, according to the National Weather Service. Due to these storms, millions of Americans from southern Texas to the Northeast remain under Winter Storm/Ice Warnings, Watches, and Advisories.

Texas has been among the most impacted states, where freezing temperatures have caused water mains and customer lines to break and large-scale power outages that have impacted water treatment plant operations. As of Tuesday morning, Texas had the highest number of power outages among the affected states at about 4.4 million, according to Last night, the City of Abilene announced it had been forced to shut off water as a result of power outages from both power sources at all three of its water treatment plants. It added that a boil water notice will be in effect when water is restored and encouraged residents with electricity to conserve as much as possible to relieve the demand on the state’s power grid, something other utilities and state officials have also encouraged. In Houston, water pressure also has been affected by power outages taking out pumps, as well as by pipes breaking underground as the ground freezes. Utility officials there asked residents not to drip their faucets as a measure to keep pipes from freezing, warning that too many flowing taps could reduce water pressure to the point that Houstonians might need to boil their water to use it. Houston officials also urged residents not to use washing machines or dishwashers, something that their counterparts in Austin have also encouraged.

Read more at USA Today, ABC News, and CNN.

Below, WaterISAC has posted today’s FEMA’s Daily Operations Briefing, which discusses impacts and predictions for the severe winter weather and cold.