The snow and ice may have melted, but Winter Storm Uri has left a flurry of busted pipes and other damages that could take several weeks to repair.
Austin Water's water leaks map is now flooded with long-term repairs across the city, and plumbers are booked weeks or months in advance as Austinites clamor to get their homes fixed.
As the city was besieged with a long-term freeze, water in pipes quickly turned to ice, leading to increased pressure, expansion, and eventually, tens of thousands of leaks.
Twitter user Colin Sullender compiled all broken water pipe reports from the Austin Fire Department's Active Fire Incidents page and found that over 2,000 calls have been made since Feb. 15. According to AFD's Twitter, the department was only able to respond to a fraction of those reports.
The @AustinFireDept has received over 2,000 "Broken Water Pipe" reports since February 15th according to their Active Fire Incidents page with a peak of almost 90 reports in one hour on Tuesday. Incident reports were distributed across the #Austin city limits. #atx#txwx#txlegepic.twitter.com/lzro4i0ajD
— Colin Sullender (@shiruken) February 21, 2021
While some have had busted pipes since Winter Storm Uri first reached Central Texas, others are only just finding out they have damages as water is slowly trickling back into their homes. According to an Austin Water spokesperson, the department has not been able to find many leaks because of low water pressure.
With the city unable to respond to the influx of calls, many Austinites took to social media to vent their concerns, give advice and even provide plumbing services.
On Reddit's Austin page, users created a plumbing "megathread" that gives tips on at-home pipe repairs, Austin Water updates and more advice on handling the water crisis. The thread saw nearly 700 comments with similar tips, questions and links for extra help.
One user offered to help with free plumbing services to anyone in need. Others discussed melting snow in bathtubs or creating DIY contraptions to get clean drinking water. Many posts talked about the community created on the platform during the crisis, calling the page a "lifesaver" full of important tips and "camaraderie."
On Twitter, users have found that pipes are continuing to burst as water thaws.
Not good to see this pipe burst at the end of my street @AustinWater #allandale#austinpic.twitter.com/z7A8xFAtuj
— Elizabeth Catlos (@ElizabethCatlos) February 21, 2021
Others are offering free temporary fixes as well.
Hey fam - if you're in Austin and can't turn on your water because of a pipe break, let me know. I can help with a temp fix while you wait for a plumber. I'm hearing of waitlists stretching into April.
— Bill Blackstone (@BillBlackstone) February 20, 2021
Thousands of burst pipes have also resulted in water loss on a massive scale that has contributed to the city's current water outage. At its peak on Tuesday and Wednesday, Austin Water utility director Greg Meszaros said that 325 million gallons of water were lost.
With a sudden surge in leaky pipes and increasing demand in running water, Austin Water is still working to refill its reservoirs and bring back running water to much of the city. As of Sunday, the reservoirs are at 72 million out of the 100 million gallons needed to restore normal utilities.
Two more city zones saw a return in low-pressure running water on Sunday morning, but five of the nine are still completely dry. Austin Water said it hopes to bring back water utilities to all zones by tomorrow.
Since the city's water filtration plants lost power during the storm, Austin and many others remain under a boil-water notice for at least the next few days.Nearly half of Texas' population was under a boil-water notice at one point this week.
In addition to the city, most Austin plumbers are booked for weeks, if not months, in advance due to such high demand. Travis County Judge Andy Brown said in a press conference on Saturday that repairs could take a month to address, and phony plumbers are a secondary issue that could occur as services remain scarce.
"My guess is that there is an extreme need for plumbers, and that it sounds like we're at least a month out from everybody having their things fixed," Brown said. "I would also caution that in times of disaster like this, it is very common for people to claim that they are a plumber, or that they can rehabilitate your house, but they're really just trying to take your money."
The spike in burst pipes, the citywide loss of water and power outages during the winter storm has left many to question what changes need to be made to the city and state's infrastructure as both face many uncertain weeks of recovery.
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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.
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