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SAWS officials said they were making progress on restoring water service to areas that had formerly lost pressure due to leaks, faucets left running, and the loss of power to water pumps.

The utility expected to have service restored to parts of Stone Oak and Rogers Ranch by the end of the day Thursday. But other areas near Interstate 10 on the Northwest Side and east of U.S. Highway 281 in far Northeast San Antonio are likely to take longer. Some areas of SAWS territory could be without water until Monday.

At a briefing with City and County officials Thursday evening, SAWS CEO Robert Puente said he understood the public’s “need and want for definitive answers and times.”

“I wanted to know when the power was going to come back on so our pumps could come back on,” Puente said. “I wanted to know when my own home was going to have power. So I know and understand that people want to know and understand, ‘When will I have water?’ And it’s very hard to say.”

At a high point, SAWS estimated 30% of its customers were without water – a result of loss of power to SAWS pumps, leaks from ruptured pipes on private property, and people trickling faucets to keep pipes from freezing. SAWS provided updated outage maps Thursday but did not provide a revised percentage of customers without service.

SAWS pumps have power again, Puente said, and the utility is most concerned about leaks. SAWS urged people to monitor their properties for leaks and shut off their water at the meter, if they have one, to help keep the system pressurized.

At the briefing, Puente said he had asked Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality for permission to lift the system-wide boil water notice that SAWS issued yesterday.

SAWS instituted the order, which officials called “precautionary,” because of a loss of pressure in its system. Without sufficient pressure in the water system, unwanted contaminants can be more easily drawn in.

Puente said he wanted state officials to lift the boil-water advisory before receiving laboratory samples normally needed to prove the water is safe to drink. Because SAWS suffered no breaks in its water mains during the winter freeze, the procedure can be expedited, he said.

“The unique thing about San Antonio is we have had a closed system throughout this situation,” Puente said. “None of our lines broke, so no contaminants got into them.”

San Antonio’s utilities also promised financial relief for residents who lost power and water in this week’s freeze.

CPS Energy President and CEO Paula Gold-Williams said customers can’t be charged for power they didn’t consume when they were shut off during blackouts earlier this week. The utility will also be “patient” with customers who fall behind on payments, she said.

“There is no need for people to worry if they are late getting their payments in and don’t want to fall behind and maybe need a little more time,” Gold-Williams said.

San Antonio Water System officials on Thursday announced a new billing system meant to help its customers avoid paying for water lost in leaks from ruptured pipes. SAWS will compare a customer’s current bill to the customer’s previous billing cycle and charge that customer the lesser of the two.

“Do [you] have to pay for this water? No, you don’t,” Puente said. “Whatever your bill was before this happened … we’re going to ask you to pay that bill, no matter how much water you may have lost.”

Both utilities stopped shutting off customers for lack of payment in March 2020 as a result of the coronavirus pandemic and have not resumed disconnections since.

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Brendan Gibbons

Brendan Gibbons is a former senior reporter at the San Antonio Report. He is an environmental journalist for Oil & Gas Watch.