Austin officials are asking residents to immediately take steps to avoid a citywide boil-water notice, impacts to fire hydrants and a widespread lack of water service—as the city approaches nearly three full days without power amid a pandemic.
"We need to conserve water, and that, right now, is the most immediate priority," Austin Mayor Steve Adler said during a press conference Wednesday afternoon.
Until Wednesday, city officials asked residents to drip their faucets in an effort to prevent frozen and burst pipes and said there were no plans to disrupt water service. Circumstances have since changed. Dripping faucets and burst pipes have contributed to a surge in water use that threatens to outpace the available supply, mirroring the circumstances that led to mass power outages across the state.
"It may not seem like a lot of water if you drip a few faucets," Austin Water Director Greg Meszaros said. But the local utility estimates local faucet dripping is requiring 140 million gallons of water a day. When combined with burst pipes, Austin Water is seeing demand more than double the available capacity.
Southwest Austin is the most impacted area, as a water main break in the Circle C neighborhood led to a boil-water notice for affected areas.
This water crisis exacerbates the existing energy crisis. More than 30% of Austin Energy customers remain without power and may not be able to boil water that is safe to use. It is also hard for Austin Water crews to identify broken water mains because of the snow and to repair them because of ice on the roads.
Austin Water officials are asking residents who still have access to take conservation measures, such as turning off their dripping faucets and not running laundry and dishwashers.
Austin Energy announced early Wednesday afternoon that the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which manages about 90% of the state's power grid, had permitted the utility to restore 16 circuits across its service area. Customers who have been without power the longest are being prioritized, but General Manager Jackie Sargent warned customers that restoration will likely be short-lived because of ongoing grid issues and circuit overloads caused by lights, electronics and thermostats left on pre-outage.
Although other energy companies operating in Austin and those around the state have been able to implement rolling outages, Austin Energy is not yet able to do so because of the high number of circuits that include critical infrastructure, such as hospitals and fire stations. The utility is also unable to control power access to individual customers and instead must deal with entire circuits, Sargent said.
The Biden administration is monitoring the emergency situation in Texas and has coordinated with the Federal Emergency Management Agency to provide assistance, including deliveries of water and blankets.
"FEMA has supplied generators to Texas and is preparing to move diesel into the state to ensure the continued availability of backup power, which of course is a major issue on the ground, to key critical infrastructure, including communications, hospitals and water," White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said during the daily news briefing on Wednesday.
Vice President Kamala Harris spoke to Texans during an appearance on the Today show Wednesday morning. "I know they can't see us right now," she said. "But the president and I are thinking of them and really hope that we can do everything that is possible through the signing of the emergency orders to get federal relief to support them."
President Joe Biden declared an emergency for the state of Texas and ordered federal assistance to help with the severe winter storm on Sunday.
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The Austin airport is warning travelers to “pack your patience” as it expects this Memorial Day weekend to be the busiest in airport history.
This weekend will kick off a period of more than 4.8 million passengers passing through Austin-Bergstrom International Airport by the end of summer—contributing to a projected record-breaking year of 22 million passengers at ABIA.
The surge in traffic at the airport comes as ABIA considers itself officially recovered from the pandemic's impact, an airport spokesperson ABIA Public Information Specialist Bailey Grimmett told Austonia. Additionally, the population growth in Central Texas and more service offered from ABIA has meant more people at the airport, she said. However, it has come under fire for increasingly long wait times at TSA and not having enough parking.
Flying soon? Here’s how to prepare for a busy airport this summer.
Arrive hours early for your flight, especially if it's in the morning
Summer travel lines in September 2021. (Austonia)
The busiest passenger traffic days in summer 2021 were Thursdays, Fridays, Sundays and Mondays, according to a release but each day of the week is expected to see increased traffic this summer. Lines tend to be longest before 8 a.m. and sometimes mid-morning hours.
Grimmett told Austonia the average person should arrive at the airport two-and-a-half hours before boarding time for domestic flights or three hours early for international flights. You might want to tack on extra time if…
- You need to park or are returning a rental.
- You’re traveling with a big group, children or those who require assistance.
- You’re checking in baggage.
Familiarize yourself with TSA requirements
The worst thing while traveling is getting stuck in security and having to repack all of your belongings. If you’re traveling with a carry-on of toiletries, medication or food, double-check with TSA.gov if you’re not sure.Security screening checkpoints open at 3 a.m. and Grimmett said don’t hesitate to ask a staff member if you need help. Faster screening is available by applying for TSA PreCheck or Clear screening for an extra fee.
Rather wait for the rush to die down?
Grimmett said to expect near-constant high traffic through August, when students return to school and tourist season ends. The lull is short-lived though—ABIA typically sees another travel uptick in October for events like F1 and ACL Festival.
Once you’re inside, refer to our complete guide to ABIA for a look at the amenities.
By Kali Bramble
Calls for firmer regulation of the dockless scooters, mopeds and e-bikes scattered about the city may hit the desks of City Council in coming months, as a recommendation from the Downtown Commission makes its way to the agenda.
The recommendation proposes stricter requirements for providers to remove devices blocking sidewalks, crosswalks and other rights of way and increase fees for subsequently impounded vehicles. The proposal also calls for implementing a ticketing system for riders who violate municipal traffic code or state law.
Since 2018, the steady influx of electronic scooters has left Austin’s Transportation Department scrambling to integrate the devices into city infrastructure. As of this year, companies Bird, Lime, LINK, and Wheels collectively operate a total of 14,100 micromobility devices, many of which are concentrated in Austin’s urban core.
“I walked out of my office at Sixth and Congress today at noon and counted 65 scooters laying on their side,” Texas Monthly founder Michael Levy said in a public comment. “It looks like a war zone.”
Critics of the exploding scooter market cite incidents of devices blocking pedestrian walkways for days on end. Under the commission’s proposal, improperly discarded devices would be subject to impounding within two hours, with the time limit reduced to one hour in the downtown area. A $100 release fee along with a $5 per day storage fee would go toward investment in infrastructure solutions, such as augmenting the 25 existing parking corrals throughout the city.
Detractors also cite episodes of reckless and inebriated scooter riders as an increasing public health problem. While restrictions like in-app speed reduction technology have sought to mitigate such incidents, emergency room workers anecdotally report an alarming number of scooter-related injuries, especially on weekends. Preliminary data from Austin Public Health supports such claims, though it is still a challenge to quantify.
Micromobility advocates, on the other hand, argue that scooters provide an important service to those navigating Austin’s patchwork public transportation system. The Transportation Department considers such short-distance mobility options another solution in its toolbox to combat the city’s over-reliance on cars.
Still, scooter skeptics wonder if these benefits outweigh consequences. Levy noted that cities like San Diego have responded very differently to the burgeoning industry, instituting strict regulations and penalties that have reduced the presence of scooters without banning them entirely.
The Downtown Commission’s recommendation proposes citations for scooter riders violating municipal parking and traffic laws amounting to $100 for first-time offenders, followed by $250 for subsequent offenses. The proposal would also ban scooter-riding on a number of highly trafficked sidewalks, though these remain unspecified.
The commission hopes such tools could work alongside efforts by the Transportation Department to ramp up enforcement, including the recent establishment of 10 full-time mobility service officer positions charged with regulating scooter use. Increased revenue from licensing fees and ticketing could also serve to finance infrastructure solutions.
“It’s shocking to me that we currently only get around $1 million a year out of these fees,” Commissioner Mike Lavigne said. “I did some rough math … and figure we’ve maybe gotten $6 million since this thing started. It seems to me like we could be getting a whole lot more to invest in making it more sustainable, like more docking stations and corrals, so there’s somewhere for these scooters to go.”