By Jeffrey L. McIntyre, President of Texas Water Utilities, SouthWest Water Company
The 2021 hurricane season has officially begun, and experts predict another above-normal season in the Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico. As we prepare for significant inland rainfall caused by these storms, we must remember valuable lessons learned from one of the largest statewide emergencies in recent history, the severe winter freeze in February.
Instead of flash flood warnings — something Texans are accustomed to— the deadly winter storm plunged our state into single-digit temperatures, bringing historic cold weather and snowfall, power outages and traffic wrecks to Texas as it swept across 26 states. At least 4.5 million Texans lost power, more than 50 people tragically died due to hypothermia, and about 12 million people received boil notices because of water quality issues.
Here in Texas, we pass a lot of casseroles over the fence, so to speak. I was deeply moved by the extraordinary actions and humble grace of customers and employees alike. People offered us food and warm drinks in the frosty darkness. One neighborhood created an impromptu sandwich brigade to feed our folks in the field. This was not only reassuring, but it kept our employees going.
In Palo Pinto County, between Breckenridge and Mineral Wells, residents of The Cliffs went door-to-door in golf carts checking on homes to ensure there were no leaks. This allowed our employees to restore water pressure quickly before homes became at-risk to damage.
In Inverness Point, west of Austin, our team laid 1,000 feet of hose uphill for a water intake line. Another team went to a senior living facility in Pflugerville to help run a temporary line — which is not part of our service responsibilities. People just did the right thing and kept their cool amid the freezing temperatures.
In a crisis like the February storm, you need real-time updates on the status of your water, which is why we created a continually updated dashboard of system status. You need to know about where to find water or what a boil notice means exactly, which is why we shared information with customers and media daily.
This is the sort of thing good neighbors do. We check on one another. We offer help whenever and wherever we can.
Many were without water for multiple days, in various water utility service areas across the state, SouthWest Water Company’s included. I understand that created significant hardship for many of you. My house was no different.
Having been in utilities for 36 years, I know that our customers do not want or need excuses. They need reliable and safe water. I have also learned over the years that you need timely information to be an active participant in the health of your water system.