In a Thursday update on Houston’s winter storm response, Mayor Sylvester Turner celebrated that most city residents finally have electricity again, but warned that locals may still have to boil their water for safe consumption through this weekend or into next week. He also warned about the one last hard freeze set for Thursday night and cautioned folks to take precautions to prevent busted pipes that could damage homes and further set-back the city water pressure issues.
Most of the city of Houston has been under a boil water notice since Wednesday morning, when the city water system’s pressure fell below the state’s 20 psi threshold for safe drinking water. Thanks to ongoing repairs and getting a bunch of new generators up and running to warm-up chilly pipes overnight, Turner said the pressure situation is slowly but steadily improving.
But even though we’re above that 20 psi threshold, Turner said we still have a ways to go before local water is safe to drink without cooking first.
“In terms of the pressure, it needs to be right around 35 [psi], really, and we don’t anticipate that taking place until tomorrow,” Turner explained. “Then we have to take samples and send those samples to the Texas Commision on Environmental Quality… and then we have to wait about 24 hours.”
With all that in mind, Turner said he expects Houstonians will still need to boil their water before drinking or cooking with it until the end of this weekend at the earliest.
“We’ll still be in this boil water status probably until about Sunday or Monday,” he said. Turner had said on Wednesday that he hoped the boil notice could be lifted as soon as Friday.
The good news is that even with the boil water issues, Turner said that the increases in local water pressure have already improved the water situations at local hospitals, and that the pressure uptick has made city fire hydrants able to pump out much more water for Houston firefighters.
It’s especially good news given that the Houston Fire Department has already responded to more than 60 structure fires in the last three days, and because hospitals are dealing with an influx of patients from carbon monoxide poisoning cases due to folks using dangerous heat sources like outdoor grills and cars parked in closed garages to heat their homes.
Turner said he’s instructed City Council to identify sites for free bottled water distribution for residents who still don’t have running water (or the electricity to boil it even if water is working) in each of the city’s 11 council districts. “It’s my hope that we can have that up and going by today by 2 o’clock, but certainly by today,” Turner said.
Ahead of tonight’s hard freeze, Public Works director Carol Haddock asked Houstonians lucky enough to not have had pipes burst this week to try their best to turn off their water before the ultra-cold weather rolls in this evening. She said people can call 311 to get instructions or on-site assistance shutting of their home water mains, and told apartment residents to consult with their landlords or building managers about their water situation.
"We could encourage each of you to very strongly consider turning off the water to your house and draining the pipes for the night... they can't burst if there's no water in them to freeze," said Haddock.
Turner also announced that he’s already recruited CenterPoint President David Lesar to chair a new winter storm relief fund the city is working on, which will resemble the city’s Hurricane Harvey relief process. The mayor said he’s in the process of soliciting donations for this fund from local philanthropists and businesses. This pool of money will go toward home repairs and critical assistance for those affected by this horrible winter storm, and he especially hopes low-income and elderly Houstonians will take advantage of the funds once available.
Additionally, Turner said he’s working on a joint request with San Antonio and other Texas cities to ask the Federal Emergency Management Agency to provide extra relief for Texans in need, and thanked U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee for her help in getting that process moving. He also announced that the city disability office has partnered with CrowdSource Rescue to set up a program to provide transportation and supply delivery to seniors without transportation.
CenterPoint VP Kenny Mercado said he’s been in touch with ERCOT (the Electric Reliability Council of Texas) and was told by the power grid operator that Texas has more power generators online right now than any time since Sunday. As of Thursday morning, 98 percent of CenterPoint customers had their power restored.
“The grid looks great, and we’ve been working so hard to keep it stable… However, tonight’s a freezing night, and all of our activities have occurred at nighttime while people are sleeping,” Mercado said. He explained there’s still a chance that all of these new power sources and recently-restored electricity customers turning on their heaters tonight could add enough strain to the grid to cause more power outages, although they should last way less long than the days-long outages we’ve seen this week so far.
Turner couldn’t help but chuckle when asked about Sen. Ted Cruz’s decision to high-tail it to Cancun yesterday, a trip which a source close to Cruz confirmed to the Associated Press. Cruz claimed in a statement Thursday that he was only heading down to Mexico to accompany his out-of-school daughters (ages 10 and 12) on a trip with friends and planned to head back immediately, though the jury is still out on that one.
“Well it’s certainly much warmer where he’s going, let me just put it like that,” Turner quipped.
Without directly criticizing Cruz, Turner said he believes being a leader in times like this means sticking it out until your constituents are out of harm’s way.
“My task as the mayor of this city is to stay on this ship until everybody’s needs are met,” Turner said.