HOUSTON (NewsNation Now) — Some of the millions of people in Texas facing another day without heat or power following a historic winter storm are being warned that they may need to boil their drinking water or conserve it due to a surge in demand.
As of noon on Thursday, 110 counties were reporting issues with their water systems. The current population affected by boil water notices is just under 7 million, according to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. As of the 2019 census, there were just under 10 million households in the state of 29 million.
Texas cities under boil water advisories include Houston, parts of Austin, Abilene, Hideaway, Lufkin, Tyler, Nacogdoches, Galveston County, Arlington, Bellaire, Victoria, Temple and San Antonio.
Some 2.7 million households were without power, according to the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), a cooperative responsible for 90% of the state’s electricity which has come under increasing fire for a massive failure of the power grid.
Many water treatment plants lost power, creating an environment capable of breeding bacteria. Another explanation given for the water issues is many people dripping their pipes to prevent pipe damage has led to extreme usage.
The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality warned the boil water advisory could last for some time due to damage from the winter storm, with sub-freezing temps forecast for the state through Saturday as the fifth winter storm system in the last week will move across Texas Thursday, and may begin creating another layer of ice and snow in Central Texas as early as Wednesday night.
“There’s really no letup to some of the misery people are feeling across that area,” said Bob Oravec, lead forecaster with the National Weather Service, referring to Texas.
Governor Greg Abbott said in a news conference Wednesday afternoon that today 6,000 megawatts of power was added to the grid, which equates to restored power for about 1.2 million households.
He said he also expects power to return to 400,000 more homes Wednesday after improvements to a Texas nuclear power plant increased fuel production capabilities as well as coal power.
Abbott announced two executive orders he signed to assist with the emergency. The first requires all natural gas to remain in Texas during the crisis, after some energy companies continued shipping energy outside the state. That lasts through Feb 21.
The second executive order allows retired plumbers, and those still in training, to practice without certification. Abbott warned the next part of the crisis will be major plumbing issues across the state with so many pipes being damaged in the water shortages.
Grocery stores and supermarkets in Texas have imposed item limits on customers to ensure that everyone has access to the food and water they need. Some have had to wait in long lines to access supplies.
Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo, the top government executive in Harris County, Texas, on Wednesday said the ongoing storms were straining not only the local electric grid but triggering a cascade of effects, including lost water pressure, carbon monoxide poisoning and halted COVID-19 vaccinations.
In Abilene, Texas shoppers crowded grocery stores Monday to stock up on water after the city announced it had 2-3 hours of water left at normal consumption, due to loss of electric power caused by the winter storm. Many Abilene residents awoke with no power or water Wednesday morning.
A family in Abilene had to watch their house burn Monday night as firefighters were only able to draw water from one hydrant because all three city water treatment plants were offline due to cold weather power outages.
Reuters and NewsNation affiliate KXAN contributed to this report.