Unprepared Infrastructure Leaves Millions in Texas Without Power, Water
TEXAS—February 19, 2021—The winter storms this week closed schools, halted travel, and caused power outages around the country, but nowhere have the effects been more severe than Texas where the state’s entire power grid nearly collapsed and widespread ongoing outages led to a cascade of problems and a state of emergency. At the height of the Texas power outage, nearly 4 million people lost power, 12 million currently face water disruption, and 16 Texans have died due to the extreme weather, according to CNN. Food shortages are also a problem as deliveries have been halted and stores are unable to operate without power.
The problems in Texas begin with the power grid. As unusually cold temperatures descended on the state, demand for power to heat homes and buildings skyrocketed. Although Texas has diverse sources of power, including natural gas, coal, wind, and nuclear facilities, none of these systems had been winterized and they all lost functionality in the cold. CNN reports that officials from the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), which operates the state’s power grid, said they implemented controlled outages beginning Monday morning to prevent a catastrophic system collapse. Compounding these problems is the fact that Texas runs its own electric grid to avoid federal regulation, but this makes it more difficult to borrow power from other states when there’s an issue.
The prolonged Texas power outage and ongoing freezing temperatures began a cascade of other problems. Pipes across the state froze and burst, causing water damage in homes and disabling water treatment plants. On Wednesday, nearly 7 million residents were told to boil their water before use—an impossible feat for many without power. Some residents were also told not to flush toilets to avoid releasing wastewater into disabled sewer systems. Meanwhile food supplies began running low as the weather ground the grocery supply chain to a halt, and many people had no way to cook what food they did have, according to CNN. Some residents gathered snow to melt for water and others burned household items for heat as the frigid temperatures went on for more than a week. Texans with health conditions in some cases found themselves unable to operate necessary medical equipment or obtain their medications.
Temperatures are forecast to begin rising over the weekend, though overnight lows will remain below freezing in much of Texas. As the state thaws, the recovery from this extreme weather event is just beginning. By Thursday, CNN reports power was restored to all but about 500,000 customers, but the water crisis will take longer to repair. Many homes and businesses suffered water damage from burst pipes, and restocking food and supplies in stores statewide will take time as well. As climate change increases the frequency of severe weather events, many Texans are wondering what can be done to prevent a similar crisis in the future. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the North American Electric Reliability Corporation plan to investigate the infrastructure failures.