CPS Energy senior director sought to keep water pump outage information confidential, records show

Utility defends language in Feb. 17 email, citing growing security concerns for energy and water infrastructure

A CPS Energy senior director sought to keep information about pump station power outages confidential last month as the city’s water situation worsened, according to emails obtained by the KSAT 12 Defenders.

SAN ANTONIO – A CPS Energy senior director sought to keep information about pump station power outages confidential last month as the city’s water situation worsened, according to emails obtained by the KSAT 12 Defenders.

Clayton Kruse, the utility’s senior director of military and managed accounts, provided an update to a San Antonio Water System vice president Feb. 17 about which pump sites currently had power.

“Attached is a status of power to your pump stations. Confidential please,” wrote Kruse in the email sent at 1:58 p.m.

Around 90 minutes later, SAWS officials were forced to issue a city-wide boil water notice.

The recipient of the email, SAWS V.P. of Production and Treatment Jeff Haby, responded at 4 p.m. that he would share the information with his team.

Haby then quickly clarified in a follow up email that he had only notified SAWS’ Control Center Management team.

CPS Energy officials this week defended Kruse’s email, claiming utility infrastructure could have been the target of threats had the information it contained not remained confidential.

“The emails between CPS Energy and SAWS regarding pump stations during the winter storm were asked to be kept confidential as the information detailed circuit numbers, pump stations and SAWS customer account numbers, which is information we always protect for all our customers. The safety of our employees, community and infrastructure is paramount, even throughout a historic weather event like the one we experienced last month,” CPS spokeswoman Dana Sotoodeh said via email.

Sotoodeh shared links to news articles about two past attacks on utility infrastructure, including a 2013 assault on electrical transformers in Northern California.

Officials are still determining how many residents died in the San Antonio area during the storm after supply issues with the Texas electric grid forced CPS and other utilities to shed load on Feb. 15, leaving millions of Texans without power for days.

Related: CPS Energy uses a college student for weather forecasting. That’s not how other major Texas utilities operate.

The move likely prevented a catastrophic collapse of the grid, but led to rolling power outages that caused some CPS customers to go without any power for several days.

SAWS officials, who directed inquiries about the email exchange back to CPS Energy, confirmed this week that more than three-quarters of its large primary and booster pump stations experienced power brownouts.

A brownout occurs when there is a drop in voltage to an electrical supply system.

A SAWS spokeswoman said it will take further analysis to determine the total number of power outages that took place across the SAWS system during the freeze event.

CPS Energy officials refused multiple requests from the Defenders to make Kruse or President & CEO Paula Gold-Williams available for an interview.

Gold-Williams, who took part in press briefings during the days-long deadly storm and in its immediate aftermath, has not been made available to answer questions from the Defenders since.

The email from Kruse was among records released by SAWS following a request for public information from the Defenders.

Other local entities, including the city of San Antonio and CPS Energy, have so far not released records to the Defenders about their respective preparedness and response to the storm.

CPS officials this week said the utility would begin release records by March 29 at the latest.

During a briefing to trustees last week, SAWS Senior Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Steven Clouse said communication between the water and sewage utility and CPS was continuous during the winter storm event.

But the records released by SAWS also show that messaging from CPS Energy was, at times, disjointed during the early stages of the outages.

CPS Energy publicly announced on Feb. 15 at 2:55 a.m. that it was participating in coordinated, rotating outages after receiving instructions from the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT).

More than four hours later, however, Clouse received a message from a CPS energy demand email address requesting that SAWS take part in voluntary energy conservation, records show.

SAWS is the largest power consumer in San Antonio.

Around 8 p.m. on Feb. 15, Haby then received a similar message from the CPS energy demand email address requesting SAWS take part in voluntary energy conservation beginning at midnight even though non-voluntary outages had already been taking place in San Antonio for over 18 hours at that point.

“I want to be clear. We didn’t want to turn off pump stations. Our jobs would be infinitely easier to say ‘CPS, absolutely no way we are not going to let you turn off that pump station.’ But it really wasn’t our choice,” said Clouse during the roughly hourlong presentation to trustees on March 2.

No place to stay

Fallout from the storm continues for some area residents nearly a month after the winter blast first arrived in San Antonio.

Meagan Rivera and her teenage son were forced to evacuate their Leon Valley apartment Feb. 15 after a massive water leak caused the ceiling in Rivera’s bathroom to cave in.

“I left all my pipes running like I was supposed to, like we were all advised,” said Rivera, who has been staying in a hotel after the second floor apartment sat in five inches of water for nearly a week.

“Basically like a waterfall happening here. It’s a lot. I’m like on the verge of a mental breakdown,” said Rivera, whose renter’s insurance policy will only pay for a hotel room until Friday.

Rivera said she approached management at the Sierra Royale Apartment Homes about moving her and her son to an undamaged unit, only to be told that was not possible.

Repairs continue at Rivera’s current apartment, but mold was present inside the unit earlier this week and a maintenance worker was still repairing the large hole in the ceiling Tuesday evening.

“We are doing our best to accommodate our residents in every way possible, and I spoke to Ms. Rivera personally and via email about her options. She requested a different unit, but we do not have any units available to offer at this time. I explained that if she did not want to wait for the repairs to be completed in her unit, we understand and would release her from her lease. I did not receive a response back from Ms. Rivera yet. We look forward to meeting with Ms. Rivera again to figure out the best course of action for her and her household,” said Priscilla Ortiz, a manager for the group that operates Sierra Royale.

About the Authors:

Emmy-award winning reporter Dillon Collier joined KSAT Investigates in September 2016. Dillon's investigative stories air weeknights on the Nightbeat and on the Six O'Clock News. Dillon is a two-time Houston Press Club Journalist of the Year and a Texas Associated Press Broadcasters Reporter of the Year.

Dale Keller is senior news photographer at KSAT-12.