This month’s weather-driven crisis will be etched in San Antonio’s collective memory as one of the most difficult events in our city’s modern history.

The record-setting deep freeze accompanied by snow, sleet, and frozen roads led to massive statewide power outages that forced many San Antonians and their fellow Texans to endure extended periods without electricity even as temperatures dropped to single digits at times and remained below freezing for days.

The extreme weather event led to frozen water pipes in thousands of homes and businesses and left many San Antonians without water for several days.

The disastrous chain reaction was sparked when the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), which controls the state’s electric grid, required CPS Energy and other Texas utilities to use rotating blackouts to save energy because of a statewide electricity shortage. 

The events understandably angered residents who expect – and deserve – better service. 

The Texas Legislature appropriately launched hearings to probe ERCOT’s handling of this situation. ERCOT and state regulators need to be held accountable for the dramatic failure of the state’s power grid, and state-level action is necessary to prevent this type of statewide energy crisis from reoccurring.

Every elected official in Texas should work to make sure that ratepayers are not saddled with the excessive costs for power during the weather event. The first thing lawmakers should ask is who got rich while Texans suffered.

CPS Energy has now obtained legal counsel, and the utility must act to both hold the regulators accountable and to prevent gas providers from reaping huge windfalls from misery. Any suggestion of placing the financial burden of the energy grid collapse on the backs of ratepayers is wholly unacceptable. 

I will fight to make sure that the costs of the disaster are not borne by the people who suffered through it.

And we need answers locally as well so we can be better prepared for the next extreme event. That’s why I established a committee to take a thorough look at what happened and why.

The Select Committee on 2021 Storm Preparedness and Response is being led by former City Councilman Reed Williams and will examine the factors that led to the power outages and subsequent loss of water for many residents. They will find out what happened and offer recommendations on how to ensure it doesn’t happen again.

Water is handed out at the San Antonio Food Bank while some areas were still without water on Feb. 20. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

Recovery is now underway, and many San Antonians are coping with broken water pipes because of the big freeze.  We are working to make sure that the cost of repairs doesn’t fall on the shoulders of San Antonians.

The City’s Emergency Housing Assistance program and other pieces of our pandemic relief infrastructure remain operative and provide avenues of relief for residents who are suffering and need assistance staying on their feet.   

Last week, we also launched the SAWS Community Pipe Repair Fund that can help people quickly deal with the damage caused by storm-related frozen pipes. The fund will provide assistance to SAWS residential customers in Bexar County who suffered water pipe damage in their homes because of the recent winter weather event. The fund will be hosted by the San Antonio Area Foundation, and the repair program will be administered by SAWS until all funds are exhausted.

We expect funds from FEMA to help with the recovery at some point, but our neighbors need help now. And these funds will provide much-needed assistance. Helping each other get through hard times is the San Antonio way, and we will get through this together.

The Community Pipe Repair Fund will prioritize emergency pipe repair that risks causing harm to the life, health, or safety of the occupants and applicants must meet certain eligibility requirements. Homeowners and renters can apply, though renters will need to get approval from their landlord.

Reimbursements for storm-related plumbing repairs are available through the Community Pipe Repair Fund for residents who have already made repairs.

To contribute to the Community Pipe Repair Fund or apply for assistance, visit the SAWS website.

We will continue using every tool at our disposal to ensure that San Antonio residents emerge from this month’s weather crisis in the best shape possible and with our infrastructure and protocols prepared to prevent this type of crisis from happening again.  

Ron Nirenberg is the mayor of San Antonio.