Stop dripping your faucets: Texas officials say the state’s water supply is at risk

An aerial view of Austin after a severe snowstorm dumped heavy snow and plummeted temperatures. Feb. 17, 2021. Credit: Miguel Gutierrez Jr./The Texas Tribune

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First Texans lost their power. Now, they’re losing their potable water.

After enduring multiple days of freezing temperatures, dripping faucets to prevent frozen pipes from bursting, cities across the state warned residents on Wednesday that water levels are dangerously low and may be unsafe to drink.

Many Texas cities are issuing boil notices — asking residents to boil tap water for drinking, cooking, brushing their teeth and for making ice — as residents have been struggling to maintain power and heat while an unprecedented winter storm whips across the state.

“Water pressure is very low. Please do not run water to keep pipes from bursting,” Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner tweeted Wednesday morning. “Turn off water if pipes have burst. Please contact us if you don’t know how to turn off water. Be conservative on water usage today. It is needed for hospitals and fires.”

Austin Mayor Steve Adler on Wednesday afternoon acknowledged that dripping faucets was the correct guidance earlier this week but now it’s in people’s best interest to “shift gears and conserve water.” The city is also calling for volunteers who can help transport people from their homes to warming centers.

Approximately 420 public water systems in 120 Texas counties have reported disruptions in service, affecting more than 8 million people, according to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, as of Wednesday afternoon. Activities such as showering and doing laundry are safe, but cities under water boil notices are asking people to conserve water if at all possible.

On Tuesday, more than 200,000 residents of northern Fort Worth, as well as people in Keller, Southlake, Roanoke and other nearby communities were told to boil their water as power outages affected water treatment plants, the Dallas Morning News reported.

On the same day, several Houston-area municipalities, including the Pearland and Katy and Greatwood-Sugarland areas have also issued the same instructions to their customers, the Houston Chronicle reported.

By mid-day Wednesday, Austin water was encouraging residents in southern parts of the city to boil water before drinking it — but maintained there’s “not detected contaminants in the water we are providing.”

#AustinWater is asking customers in southwest #Austin and Lost Creek neighborhood to boil their water prior to using it for drinking or cooking, until further notice,” Austin Water tweeted. “This boil water notice is currently in specific areas and is a precautionary measure to ensure the health and safety of our customers.”

The city of Arlington also issued a notice asking residents to boil water before consumption. Corpus Christi did, too.

For now, it’s unclear when cities will be able to lift their water boil notices. While some parts of Austin have issued notices as a precautionary measure, other cities, like San Angelo, have gone days without safe drinking water after city officials found industrial chemicals contaminated the water system.