Most Austinites should have 'water to boil' by Monday, distribution sites are being set up and power restoration continues
After several winter storms and six days of subfreezing temperatures, Austin residents can expect details Friday evening about water distribution sites and "substantial improvement" in water service by Monday, although the boil water notice is likely to last into next week, city officials said during an afternoon press conference.
"Obviously it is much better to have water to boil and use than to not have water at all," Austin Water Director Greg Meszaros said.
The boil water notice took effect Wednesday evening, as most Austin Water customers had no water to actually boil or very low water pressure. Despite significant progress in restoring power, more than 20,000 Austin Energy customers—or around 4%—are still experiencing outages caused by equipment damage, which will likely take days to repair, General Manager Jackie Sargent said.
Heading into the weekend, after a disastrous week, officials answered some pressing questions, including where to find safe water, whether to keep up conservation measures and how the roads are looking.
1. When will water be restored?
Meszaros expects most Austin Water customers currently experiencing outages will see improvements by Monday. "I anticipate through the weekend the majority of our customers will see significant improvements in regards to pressure," he said.
However, this does not mean that service will be totally back to normal. "Customers may go from no water pressure to low water pressure," he said, or see discoloration. "This can be a kind of gradual improvement of service."
Austin Water is making progress—"literally, every hour it's getting better," Meszaros said—restoring pressure to its system central zone, which feeds outlying zones, and area hospitals, which are the utility's top priority.
The boil water notice is likely to last into next week for two reasons:
- Austin Water first needs to restore pressure and resolve outages, which will involve manual leak repairs and time to refill its reservoirs.
- There are state requirements for sampling and testing.
2. I don't have water (or if I do I don't have power to boil it). Where can I find safe water?
Residents can expect details on public water distribution sites later today as water deliveries begin to arrive in the Austin area.
Sites will likely operate from sunup to sundown and impose limits of one case of water per car, City Manager Spencer Cronk said. Their locations are being chosen for ease of public access given the current road conditions. The city is also working to coordinate water deliveries to vulnerable residents, such as the elderly and homeless.
The city ordered one million gallons of water in 16-ounce bottles from six surrounding states that are due to arrive starting Friday evening. FEMA also airlifted water from Fort Worth this afternoon. In addition to these bulk purchases, the city is also coordinating smaller deliveries intended for hospitals, shelters and warming centers.
Many local businesses are also distributing free water. A list can be found here.
Water supplies are limited. "If you are able to purchase water, we encourage you to do so," Cronk said.
On the ground here at the Millennium, with about 40 of my best friends and a whole lotta water and food. pic.twitter.com/n9pTUHKW7M
— Natasha Harper-Madison (@NatashaD1atx) February 19, 2021
3. I still don't have power. What is the holdup and when can I expect it to return?
As of 3:05 p.m., 20,424 Austin Energy customers are still without power. These outages are no longer due to ERCOT-mandated outages, which officials announced had ended Friday morning as supply currently outpaces demand. Instead, they are the result of weather-related equipment damage and will take "several days" to repair, Sargent said.
"Our hardest days for Austin Energy still lie ahead of us," she added.
4. Should I still be conserving water and power?
Yes and yes.
Water conservation measures are already having an impact as Austin Water is currently producing more water than is being used, which is helping the utility refill its reservoirs and restore pressure to its system's central zone.
Customers with water should continue to avoid taking showers, running the dishwasher or doing laundry until water service is restored citywide, Meszaros said.
Austin Energy customers with power should also continue to conserve. Although ERCOT officials are "no longer asking for energy conservation," according to a Friday morning update, Sargent asked Austinites to reduce their use.
ERCOT operations have returned to normal, and we are no longer asking for energy conservation. Thanks for helping the grid during this very difficult time.
— ERCOT (@ERCOT_ISO) February 19, 2021
"There are still a large number of customers that have not been energized yet, so their demand is not being accounted for yet," she said. "I would ask customers, as we continue to work through this, to please continue to conserve."
5. What can I expect from my utility bills?
It's still too early to tell, but residents are understandably concerned about price gouging.
Screenshots circulated on Twitter Monday showing two-star hotels in Austin listing rooms for nearly $1,000 a night, as hundreds of residents went without power in subfreezing temperatures. On Tuesday, the Daily Beast published a story that featured Royce Pierce, a Texas contractor whose February heating bill is nearly $8,000—only three weeks in—compared to the $387.70 he paid to heat his home in January. Comstock Resources, a shale driller that operates in Texas, held an earnings call on Wednesday as natural gas prices surged. "Obviously, this week is like hitting the jackpot," President and CFO Roland Burns told investors, according to multiple reports.
Local elected officials took notice. Travis County Judge Andy Brown issued an order Tuesday that prohibited price gouging, which is illegal during a disaster. Travis County Attorney Delia Garza's office created a resource page about price gouging to "educate the public and deter illegal activity," she said during an emergency Commissioners Court meeting on Friday. Austin Mayor Steve Adler announced a special City Council meeting on Tuesday, where members will discuss "fee waivers and other relief" measures, according to a message board post.
People have lost power, water, income, and can hardly pay for food. The leaders at our utilities understand this & want to get to a solution. If utility bill relief requires state and federal help to fully accomplish, we will demand it. But we need to get it done. 👇
— Gregorio Casar (@GregCasar) February 19, 2021
Austin Water is working with the city manager to provide "a menu of options" to customers seeking financial assistance or relief after dripping faucets and burst pipes caused water usage citywide to more than double. "Certainly, Austin Water doesn't want to reap any financial benefit from this ice storm," Meszaros said.
Sargent said Austin Energy does not yet have enough information to predict rate impacts. "That is information that will be forthcoming," she added.
6. What has been done to ensure Austin's homeless residents have access to shelter and other services during this crisis?
Around 1,500 people—a mix of homeless residents and those without power at home—slept at city shelters and warming centers as of Wednesday night, Cronk said. This figure does not include those who stayed at the Austin Disaster Relief Network's faith-based shelters.
The city's police, fire and EMS departments also sent staff to more than 45 homeless encampments to offer rides to shelters and around 550 homeless residents were contacted via a texting alert system with information about resources.
Exposure-related deaths among homeless residents have been reported in Houston and Abilene. Austin Mutual Aid and other grassroots organizations have stepped in locally, providing food deliveries and covering hotel costs.
7. Is it safe to drive or walk around the city yet?
Things are improving.
The Austin Fire Department reported "a sudden uptick in traffic accidents" on Thursday evening as temperatures fell and roads began to ice over again, but call volume has since trended downward, according to Cronk and Austin-Travis County EMS.
City crews are still working to clear priority streets around the city. As of Friday afternoon, they had cleared more than 180 lane miles. But because of ongoing icy conditions, Public Works Director Richard Mendoza asked residents to limit travel only to necessary trips and stick to major corridors. "We do want the community to remain vigilant," he said.
Another concern is traffic lights. Most of the city's signals have been impacted by power loss, and crews are working to restore most by Monday morning, prioritizing those at major intersections. Residents who encounter a dead signal should treat it as a four-way stop, Mendoza said.
- Austin faces 'multi-day' water crisis after winter weather - austonia ›
- Food, bottled water en route to Austin amid weather crisis - austonia ›
- Water conservation is now Austin's 'immediate priority' - austonia ›
- Water distribution plan continues as Austin Water works to restore service - austonia ›
- Central Texans now eligible for emergency aid through FEMA - austonia ›
- Austin begins passing out water to the general public - austonia ›
- As reservoirs begin to refill, two zones regain water supply - austonia ›
- As reservoirs begin to refill, two zones regain water supply - austonia ›
- Boil water notice lifted for Central, South, North and Northwest A zones - austonia ›
- Here's which grocery stores are restocked right now - austonia ›
- Austin Water lifts boil water notice for all customers - austonia ›
If you are a committed, grunge-wearing resident of the Pacific Northwest, it is easy–almost automatic–to look at Texas as an extraordinarily dry, hot and culturally oppressive place that is better to avoid, especially in the summer. Our two granddaughters live with their parents in Portland.
Recently we decided to take the older girl, who is 15, to Dallas. Setting aside the summer heat, a Portlander can adjust to the vibes of Austin without effort. So let’s take Texas with all of its excesses straight up. Dallas, here we come.
Our 15-year-old granddaughter and her sister, 12, have spent summer weeks with us, usually separately so that we could better get to know each individually. In visits focused on Austin and Port Aransas, the girls seemed to be developing an affection for Texas.
Houston and Dallas are two great American cities, the 4th and 9th largest, each loaded with cultural treasures, each standing in glittering and starchy contrast to Austin’s more louche, T-shirts and shorts ways.
Three hours up I-35, Dallas loomed before us as a set of gray skyscrapers in a filmy haze, accessed only through a concrete mixmaster of freeways, ramps and exits. I drove with false confidence. Be calm, I said to myself, it will all end in 10 minutes under the hotel entrance canopy. And it did.
The pool at the Crescent Court Hotel in Dallas. (Crescent Court Hotel)
We stayed three nights at the Crescent Court Hotel ($622 a night for two queens), a high-end hotel in Uptown, patronized by women in white blazers, business people in suits, and tall, lean professional athletes, their shiny Escalades and Corvettes darting in and out, and other celebrities like Bill Barr, the former attorney general who shoe-horned his ample self into a Toyota.
Each morning as I walked to Whole Foods for a cappuccino, a fellow identified by a bellman as Billy the Oilman arrived in his Rolls Royce Phantom. Where does he park? “Wherever he wants to. He likes the Starbucks here.”
We garaged our more modest set of wheels for the visit. We were chauffeured for tips by Matt Cooney and Alfonza “The Rev” Scott in the hotel’s black Audi sedan. They drove us to museums, restaurants and past the enclaves of the rich and famous. In Highland Park, The Rev pointed out the homes of the Dallas Cowboys' Jerry Jones and Troy Aikman along with the family compound of the Hunts, oil and gas tycoons.
The Dallas Museum of Art’s “Cartier and Islam” exhibit (until Sept. 18) attracted an older crowd; the nearby Perot Museum of Nature and Science was a powerful whirlpool of kids’ groups ricocheting from the Tyrannosaurus Rex to the oil fracking exhibit. Watch your shins.
A Geogia O'Keeffe oil painting called "Ranchos Church, New Mexico" at the Amon Carter Museum of Modern Art. (Rich Oppel)
For us, the best museum was the Amon Carter Museum of Modern Art in Fort Worth, a 50-minute, madcap drive away via a 75 mph toll lane along I-30. Don’t try it during rush hour. The Carter has an exquisite collection of Remington paintings and sculptures and an excellent array of 19th and 20th-century paintings as well. Pick one museum? The Amon Carter. Peaceful, beautiful, uncrowded, free admission and small enough to manage in two hours.
The Fort Worth Stockyards, a place of history (with a dab of schmaltz), fun and good shopping, filled one of our mornings. The 98 acres brand the city as Cowboy Town, with a rodeo and a twice-daily (11:30 a.m. and 4 p.m.) cattle drive. We shopped for boots, drank coffee and watched the “herd” of 18 longhorns. So languid was their progress that if this were a real market drive the beef would have been very tough and leathery before it hit the steakhouse dinner plate.
The cattle drive at the Fort Worth Stockyards. (Rich Oppel)
But we could identify: the temperature was 97. “I saw a dog chasing a cat today,” said the emcee, deploying a very old joke. “It was so hot that both were walking.”
With limited time, we chose three very different restaurants:
- Nobu, in the Crescent Court Hotel; Jia, a modern Chinese restaurant in Highland Park; and Joe T. Garcia’s in Fort Worth. Nobu’s exotic Japanese menu set us back $480, with tip, for four (we had a guest), but it was worth it.
- Jia was an ordinary suburban strip mall restaurant, but with good food and a reasonable tab of $110 for four.
- Joe T.’s is an 85-year-old Fort Worth institution (think Matt’s El Rancho but larger), a fine Mexican restaurant where a meal with two drinks was $115.
Sushi at high-end restaurant Nobu. (Crescent Hotel)
It was all a splurge for a grandchild’s visit. Now we will get back to our ordinary road trips of Hampton Inns, where a room rate is closer to the Crescent Court’s overnight parking rate of $52. And to corner cafes in small towns.
Did Dallas change our 15-year-old’s view of Texas? “Yes. I think it’s a lot cooler than I did. The fashion, the food.” So, not only Austin is cool. Take Texas as a whole. It’s a big, complex, diverse and wonderful state.
Giga Texas, the massive Tesla factory in southeast Travis County is getting even bigger.
The company filed with the city of Austin this week to expand its headquarters with a new 500,000-square-foot building. The permit application notes “GA 2 and 3 expansion,” which indicates the company will make two general assembly lines in the building.
More details about the plans for the building are unclear. The gigafactory has been focused on Model Y production since it opened in April, but the company is also aiming for Cybertruck production to kick off in mid-2023.
While there is room for expansion on the 3.3 square miles of land Tesla has, this move comes after CEO Elon Musk’s recent comments about the state of the economy and its impact on Tesla.
In a May interview with Tesla Owners Silicon Valley, Musk said the gigafactories in Berlin and Austin are “gigantic money furnaces” and said Giga Texas had manufactured only a small number of cars.
And in June, Musk sent a company wide email saying Tesla will be reducing salaried headcount by 10%, then later tweeted salaried headcount should be fairly flat.
- Grand opening of Giga Texas faces push back from the community ... ›
- Giga Texas may start production of Model Y's this week - austonia ›
- Tesla hosts Cyber Rodeo grand opening party for Giga Texas ... ›
- Musk: Recently opened Giga Texas is a gigantic money furnace ... ›
- Elon Musk is spotted driving a Cybertruck through Giga Texas ... ›
- PHOTOS: Peek inside the Tesla Gigafactory producing Model Ys in ... ›
- Cyber Rodeo: what we know about the Giga Texas opening party ... ›
- Excitement over Giga Texas grand opening continues at Tesla Con ›
- Tesla's mileage range on new Model Y lowers - austonia ›