More than 1 million Texans still grappling with water supply issues

Southwest

FILE – In this Feb. 23, 2021 file photo, volunteer Ben Harper prepares to hand out drinking water at an apartment complex without water in Dallas. The recent winter storm nightmare knocked out power to more than 4 million customers across the state. (AP Photo/LM Otero, File)

AUSTIN (NewsNation Now) — More than 1.3 million people across Texas are still facing issues with their water supply, as the state recovers from a deadly winter storm that caused widespread blackouts last week.

A spokesperson for the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality confirmed the figure Wednesday, which is down from roughly 9 million – or about a third of the state’s population – on Sunday.

More than 200 counties are reporting issues with their public water systems, and 33 are unable to operate as of Wednesday evening, the spokesperson told Reuters in an emailed statement.

Meanwhile, an estimated 850 public water systems are on a boil water notice, meaning more than 1.3 million Texans are being advised to boil water before consuming it.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott promised Wednesday to overhaul the state’s electric grid operator after a massive blackout left residents without heat, power or water for days.

He said he will make the restructuring and investigation of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), which manages the flow of power to about 90% of state residents, his top legislative priorities.

“ERCOT must be overhauled,” the Republican governor said in a statewide address.

Last week, Abbott called for an investigation into ERCOT over its failure to keep the lights on for millions of Texans during the extreme cold, NewsNation affiliate KXAN reported. Outages caused billions of dollars of damages to homes and businesses.

At least six ERCOT board members have resigned this week in the wake of sharp criticism of the group’s performance.

The state Legislature could begin investigating the council as early as Thursday, Abbott said, adding that he’s already working on reforms to add more power to the grid to prevent future issues.

“At a time when essential services were needed the most, the system broke. You deserve answers. You will get those answers,” he said.

But state lawmakers are putting the blame on Abbott and the Legislature.

“One fall guy will not correct the underlying problem that left Aunt Mary shivering in the cold and in the dark for three and a half to four days,” Democratic State Sen. Sarah Eckhardt, of Austin, said.

Republican State Sen. Charles Schwertner, of Georgetown, said Abbott – as the state’s chief executive and appointer of the Public Utility Commissioners who oversee ERCOT – has as much culpability as the Legislature.

“He takes responsibility, just as we do as elected officials, at making sure that those individuals are capable and knowledgeable and have the ability to responsibly oversee and govern and manage the marketplace and electrical generation here in Texas,” Schwertner said.

Echoing comments made last week, Abbott reported that ERCOT “repeatedly” assured the state and the public it was prepared for the severe winter storms, but he said “those assurances turned out to be false.”

Officials in Houston have opened their own investigations into the outages, and prosecutors in Austin say they will investigate potential criminal wrongdoing.

The Texas House of Representatives Committees on State Affairs and Energy Resources will also hold a join public hearing Thursday to look into what led to the statewide electrical blackouts.

Meanwhile, President Joe Biden is preparing to visit the state Friday. He and first lady Jill Biden will fly to Houston, a trip that marks the president’s first visit to a disaster site since taking office.

Biden plans to meet with local leads to discuss relief efforts, and visit a health center where COVID-19 vaccines are being distributed. The White House is still finalizing the details of his trip, press secretary Jen Psaki said earlier this week.

Beyond Texas, states across the South are also still dealing with the aftermath of the storm and temperatures falling below freezing.

The Mississippi capital of Jackson struggled to fix its damaged water grid, with thousands still facing outages. In Memphis, residents in the Tennessee city of 650,000 have been told for nearly a week to boil water if they plan to use it for drinking, cooking or brushing their teeth. More than 40,000 Louisiana residents still had water outages Wednesday, and hundreds of thousands were under water boil advisories.

Reuters, the Associated Press and NewsNation affiliate KXAN contributed to this report.

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