Millions of Texans dealing with water supply issues

Capital Highlights by Gary Borders

Warmer temperatures over the weekend and continuing this week melted most of the snow from the state’s roadways and roofs. But Texans are still dealing with broken pipes that flooded homes and businesses, damaged municipal water systems, and continued power outages in scattered areas, mainly in East and Central Texas.

At the height of the power crisis, more than 4 million Texans were without electrical service — a number that shrank to less than 32,000 as of Sunday, according to the PowerOutage.Us website.

As of last weekend, more than half the state’s population had some type of disruption in their water service, from having no water to low pressure, which made it necessary to boil water before safely using it for drinking, cooking or bathing. Tiffany Young, spokeswoman for the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, reported Friday that more than 1,300 water supply systems and 62% of Texas counties were affected.

Federal disaster declaration partially granted

Gov. Greg Abbott’s request for a federal disaster declaration was partially granted on Saturday. President Joe Biden granted the request for individual assistance in 77 Texas counties (https://tinyurl.com/3doyhwnt). Individuals and business owners in counties included in the federal disaster declaration can begin applying for assistance online at www.DisasterAssistance.gov or by calling 1-800-621-3362 or 1-800-462-7585. Biden had previously issued a state of emergency for all of Texas, allowing FEMA to go into action.

State’s power grid ‘minutes’ from failing; Abbott urges legislative action

As electricity demand overwhelmed capacity last week during the height of the storm, the chief of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which operates the power grid for most of the state, told the media that the grid came close to having a catastrophic failure that could have taken months to repair. Grid operators began rolling blackouts to cut demand. “It needed to be addressed immediately,” said Bill Magness, president of ERCOT. “It was seconds and minutes (from possible failure), given the amount of generation that was coming off the system.”

Abbott last Tuesday added reform of ERCOT as an emergency item this legislative session, calling the organization “anything but reliable.” Also, Attorney General Ken Paxton has issued civil investigative demands to ERCOT and 11 power companies demanding documents and data related to the power outages, emergency plans, energy pricing and other items related to the winter storm power failures. Paxton said in a press release that ERCOT and other entities “grossly mishandled” last week’s winter disaster.

Abbott met with Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, House Speaker Dade Phelan and eight members of the Legislature on Saturday to discuss how to address the spike in energy bills affecting many Texans after the power outages.

The Public Utility Commission, which oversees ERCOT, also has begun an investigation into the outages. Chairman DeAnn Walker, said, “We must act swiftly to discover not only how this crisis came together, but also take meaningful steps to protect electricity customers.”

Tips on filing insurance claims for damaged homes

The Texas Department of Insurance offers several tips if filing a homeowner’s claim for damage caused by broken water pipes, downed tree limbs or other damage from the storm. TDI advises contacting your insurance company or agent as soon as possible to file a claim. Also:

• Make a list of damaged property. Take pictures or video of the damage.

• Take steps to protect your home from further damage. Turn off the water, cover broken windows and holes in your roof if possible. Keep receipts on anything you spend to make temporary repairs.

• Try to be present when the insurance adjust​er comes to inspect the damage or leave a note on how you can be reached.

• Keep a list of everyone you talk to at your insurance company.

• Get more than one bid, check references, and don’t pay up front.

Storm slows rate of vaccinations across Texas

Scheduled COVID-19 vaccinations were rescheduled in metro areas and vaccine hubs throughout the state due to the storm.

People in Texas vaccinated with at least one dose passed the 3 million mark, and 1.313 million people were fully vaccinated as of Sunday. COVID-19 vaccine distribution will ramp back up as the state recovers from the winter storms, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services. Nearly 600,000 first doses are coming this week from the Centers for Disease Control and are being shipped to 563 providers in 230 Texas counties.

In addition, the state has ordered 364,830 second doses intended for people first vaccinated a few weeks ago. A TDSHS news release stated that people who had their second dose appointments delayed by the winter weather “should rest assured knowing that vaccine will be available, and their appointments will be rescheduled.”

For more information, go to this site: https://tinyurl.com/duocrcgb. People without internet access can dial 2-1-1 to access information about vaccine providers.

COVID-19 cases in state continue to drop

While some reporting may have been delayed because of the storms, the Coronavirus Resource Center at Johns Hopkins University of Medicine reported 33,423 cases in Texas last week — fewer than half reported the previous week. The number of new deaths also dropped by more than half, with 892 reported. Again, the numbers may be skewed by the storm’s effects on power outages at Texas hospitals and other factors. We’ll see what next week’s numbers indicate.

Gary Borders is a veteran award-winning Texas journalist. He published a number of community newspapers in Texas during a 30-year span, including in Longview, Fort Stockton, Nacogdoches and Cedar Park.

gborders@texaspress.com

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