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This article has been updated.

From Tito’s Handmade Vodka bottles to fried pork rind containers, San Antonio residents filled every possible empty container with the allowed 5 gallons of water at seven San Antonio Water System distribution sites Friday.

SAWS opened up the bulk distribution sites as thousands of residents remained without running water in the wake of a weather crisis that triggered the loss of utility services. On Saturday, San Antonio, Bexar County, and the San Antonio Food Bank announced they will distribute cases of bottled water at 13 sites beginning at 1 p.m.

The SAWS distribution sites will operate daily from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. until the city’s water system is back online, but residents must bring their own clean containers to be filled up at the seven sites. SAWS recommends that people boil any water being used for cooking or drinking.

The line of cars at the Hausman Road pump station in Northwest San Antonio snaked out onto the road at noon, when the SAWS sites opened Friday. By 2 p.m., the line had begun to ebb and flow, as SAWS staff tramped back and forth across soggy grass to vehicles, filling empty milk and water jugs, trash cans, ice chests, and coffee carafes.

Many who pulled up their vehicles next to the robin’s egg blue water pipes had gone without running water for days, some nearing a week. Maria Saez was on the third day without running water and electricity for her and her four children. She said the family had one pot to boil water in on a grill and a pack of bottled water purchased before the snow started Sunday night. The water she picked up would be used primarily for drinking water, she said.

“For the kids, this has been rough,” Saez said. She grew up in New York and is used to snow storms – but not without running water or electricity. Her family has been relying on canned goods and a lot of snacks for food. “We’re just doing what we can to get by,” she said.

Louis Jimenez traveled about 30 miles from Bandera County to fill up a 5-gallon water cooler jug for him and his roommate. The pipes that supply water to his Pipe Creek house have been frozen since Sunday, and the electricity just came back on at his home Thursday. Additionally, the roads leading to his home have been impassable for days, and Friday was the first time he could safely leave his home to get food and water.

“I’m very grateful for this,” he said, gesturing toward the SAWS workers in yellow vests outside his car window and the full container of water in his passenger seat.

Roughly 20 percent of SAWS customers remain without water as the utility continues to restore pressure to areas far from downtown, SAWS President and CEO Robert Puente said at a Friday briefing. 

“We’re pushing water uphill and out, and so the [higher] in elevation you are and the farther away from the central city, the more likely you are to have problems,” Puente said. 

Cars line up at the SAWS pump facility off Hausman Road as people wait to collect water in their own containers. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

By late Saturday, SAWS expects to restore service to portions of the far north and northeast Bexar County, from Blanco Road to neighborhoods east of U.S. Highway 281. SAWS also expects to return service to parts of the East Side between interstates 35 and 10 and in the Gibbs Sprawl Road and FM 1516 area on Saturday. 

Areas in northwest Bexar County paralleling Interstate 10 (north of Loop 1604 from Culebra Road to Blanco Road) won’t see service restored until Monday. On the Far West, the Laurel Mountain Ranch area should have water Sunday or Monday, according to SAWS.

Converse resident Matt James has been without running water since Sunday. He drove to the Seale Road SAWS station on the city’s East Side to fill up a 5-gallon container for him and a couple of friends who are staying with him because they don’t have electricity at their homes. James knew how to fashion a makeshift toilet with a basin, toilet seat, cat litter, and wet wipes from the months he spent with the U.S. Army on duty in Puerto Rico in 2018 after Hurricane Maria devastated the island in September 2017. But he never thought he would have to build that toilet here.

“I was prepared for power outages,” he said. “I never thought about water.”

With a 2-week-old baby at home, Kamal Al said the water bottles he filled up at the Seale Road location would save lives. His water has been out since Monday, when a pipe broke, and his family ran their through supplies fast. He also picked up water for his parents.

“This has literally saved our lives,” he said as he tucked away full bottles of water in the backseat of his car.

Kamal Al fills jugs of water for his family and newborn child after suffering a water outage. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

SAWS expects to have all of its customers’ pipes flowing by Monday, Puente said, expressing hopes that regulators would shortly thereafter lift the boil-water notice.

SAWS pump station water distribution sites are located at:

  • NACO (drive-thru), 13655 O’Connor Rd.
  • Seale, 254 Seale Rd.
  • Mission, 615 Theo Parkway
  • Maltsberger (drive-thru), 8910 Jones Maltsberger Rd.
  • University (drive-thru), 7172 W. Hausman Rd.
  • SeaWorld, 10349 Military Dr. West
  • SE Booster (drive-thru), 1208 S. Loop 1604 West

For residents needing diapers and other sanitary products, the Texas Diaper Bank will hold a distribution event Saturday from 10 a.m. to noon or until supplies are gone at 1803 Grandstand Dr., Suite 150. The organization will hand out diapers, incontinence products, period products, wipes, blankets, coats, and socks. Registration is not required, but monetary donations are accepted at Texasdiaperbank.org.

Brooke Crum

Brooke Crum

Brooke Crum is the San Antonio Report's education reporter.