This article has been updated.
San Antonio is among the Texas cities struggling to provide clean drinking water as hundreds of thousands continue to suffer from a lack of heat and power.
The San Antonio Water System is urging its customers with lower-than-normal water pressure to boil water until further notice as the city struggles with frozen and leaking pipes. SAWS President and CEO Robert Puente described the notice as “precautionary” in a meeting with City Council members Wednesday.
“We can’t absolutely guarantee that those people in those low-pressure areas are fully disinfected in their water,” SAWS Chief Operating Officer Steve Clouse said, explaining that water systems under low pressure can suck in unwanted contaminants. “They probably are, but we can’t guarantee it.”
The utility estimated that 30% of its customers had no water service as of late Wednesday. Officials released a map showing significant outages around northwest Interstate 10, northeast Interstate 35, and far north and south Bexar County.
Many residents blame SAWS for the dry faucets, thoughthe SAWS leaders stressed to reporters that they had ruled out breaks in SAWS water mains.
“I’m literally putting snow in every container I own right now,” San Antonio resident Marshall Gallagher wrote in reply to a SAWS Twitter post.
Clouse said water mains are insulated underground, with enough water flowing through them quickly enough to make them more resistant to freezing than the pipes inside homes and businesses.
“The freeze really hasn’t impacted the SAWS side of the infrastructure like it has private infrastructure,” Clouse said.
For many, the boil-water notice sounded nonsensical in a city with more than 200,000 people without power, according to CPS Energy’s outage map.San Antonio council members peppered Puente and CPS Energy CEO Paula Gold-Williams with questions and criticism during a live-streamed special meeting Wednesday that saw thousands of residents venting their frustrations against the two utilities online.
“I don’t know how the hell anybody’s going to boil water with no electricity, Robert,” District 8 Councilman Manny Pelaez told Puente. “Wood?”
The utility has not seen any drinking water sampling that would indicate that water quality exceeds safe standards, said Gavino Ramos, SAWS’ vice president of communications.
San Antonio joins other Texas cities whiplashed by a water crisis brought on by a power crisis. Austin, Corpus Christi, and multiple suburban cities in the Houston and Dallas-Fort Worth areas have all issued similar boil-water notices.
As bad as water issues were Wednesday, Clouse warns that the worst may be yet to come as warming weather thaws pipes and exposes leaks.
“As pipes start to thaw … we will have thousands, maybe 10,000, who knows, maybe 100,000 leaks across the city,” Clouse said.
SAWS is urging people to monitor their properties for leaks as the weather warms Thursday. If they find water spewing from their walls or under their homes, they should shut their water off at their SAWS meter, Clouse said.
SAWS leaders also pledged to find a way to distribute more drinking water to affected residents, but the plans still sounded unclear as of Wednesday. SAWS has only one drinking water tanker truck that could be used for such a mass distribution effort. Its crews have been reassigned to other emergency duties, Puente said.