"First Texans lost their power," The Texas Tribute notes. "Now, they’re losing their potable water." After three days of frigid temperatures, some of the state's biggest cities on Wednesday warned residents who still had water service to turn off their dripping faucets, conserve as much water as possible, and/or boil their water because they can't guarantee it's safe to drink.
By late Wednesday afternoon, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality said, about 590 public water systems in 141 counties had reported disruptions in service, affecting nearly 12 million Texans. About 7 million Texans, a quarter of the state's population, were ordered to boil their drinking water or stop using it entirely, The Associated Press reports. TCEQ executive director Toby Baker attributed the water issues to frozen and cracked water mains, thousands of busted residential pipes, and people dripping water from the faucets to prevent burst pipes. Baker said the boil water notices will last until the state's 135 labs can assure Texans their local water is potable.
"It's not clear when water supplies will be replenished, but energy constraints often have impact on the water system because the water system requires energy for treatment and pumping," Michael Webber, an energy resources professor at the University of Texas at Austin, told the Tribune. Austin and Houston were among the cities that told residents to boil their water. Kyle, a town of 45,000 south of Austin, told its residents Wednesday that "water should only be used to sustain life at this point."
So millions of Texans with water and power are being urged to boil their water, people with power but not water can presumably melt snow, and those with water but no power can still flush their toilets and wash dishes, if it is warm enough to do so. Food is a problem, because stores are closed in many areas and loss of refrigeration, and pipes are still in danger of bursting through Friday. But utilities have restored power to all but 940,000 customers and by the weekend, temperatures should be above freezing throughout the state.