Texas struggles with growing water crisis

Power has been restored to millions of people in Texas, but millions more are still without clean drinking water after rolling blackouts and freezing temperatures caused pipes to burst and shut down several water purification plants. Jeff Ray, a meteorologist at CBS Dallas-Fort Worth station KTVT, joins CBSN to discuss the impact the storm has had on Texans over the past five days.

Video Transcript

- Joining me now for more on this is Jeff Ray. He is a meteorologist at our CBS Dallas-Fort Worth station KTVT. Hi, Jeff. So power has been restored to millions across the state, correct?

JEFF RAY: Yes.

- But tell us about the growing water crisis there. How are state officials working to fix that issue?

JEFF RAY: Yeah, you know, that's municipality by municipality. Of course, the good news is the power is back up. I think the latest number is that we were down to 27,000 residents without power. Remember, it peaked like about 1.3 million. So that's been whittled down.

And for the first time last night, there were no rolling blackouts. And the reason I'm talking about that, of course, before we talk about water is the water treatment plants need power. And now that the power has been more reliable, the water plants are starting to creep back online.

So there for a while, as of yesterday, almost all of the Metroplex was under a boil order. You had to boil your water before you could use it. And now we're getting a few, just a few, water districts coming back online as their treatment plants have come back online. And Tonya, it'd be difficult to explain in the big picture. But, basically, there's the Trinity River water district. And they pump water from a huge lake that's down to our southeast.

And they actually pump it across the Metroplex to a high point on the west point. And all that water then comes through the 85 different municipalities that contract for the water. So we have to get all the good water through the whole system. And sometimes, that takes days. So we could have water problems for-- for days still. Now, again, that's a supply problem. There's also a pressure problem, which is completely different.

- So at least a couple more days, this water crisis will be something to contend with, possibly longer. Is that what you're saying?

JEFF RAY: Yeah, we-- you know, again, you have to divide the problem into two problems. We-- we couldn't treat the water correctly. So there's bad water in the pipes. And we also have pressure problems because of water mains have been breaking all over the Metroplex. For instance, in Fort Worth, they had a-- from Sunday to today, they had 183 water main breaks. And they think there might be 150 more. They have to investigate. You have to dig down and see.

So as they are working to get water pressure back up, you have to have full pressure in order to guarantee water quality. And that is on, of course, the municipal side, and then you have the household side where so many homes, Tonya, have had pipes burst in their house because of the record cold. And I mean, we have not seen these temperatures in 72 years. So a lot of homes have been built in the last 72 years have never gone through temperatures like this.

So a lot of homes had burst pipes. State Farm was saying that they've had more claims for burst pipes in the last four days than they had in all of 2020. So that's just here in the first four days with many more to come, I'm sure. So you have a municipal supply problem. And you have problem at that last mile of people getting water inside their homes. That's why this is just going to take a long time before everybody's got their water back.

- So much misery. I mean, we've heard about residents across the state coping with, like you just said, those broken water pipes, the flooding, severe damage to their homes, you know, this increased need now for renovations, which have to happen before they can get the clean water, companies currently unable to do all the work. There's-- like you said, there's so many elements that have to fall into place. What kind of planning is being done right now to provide Texans with housing if they're unable to return to their homes?

JEFF RAY: Well, during the worst of the cold, there were a lot of warming centers set up across the city. And that helped many people. But the main problem there were the-- were the roads themselves. We had two winter storms bringing snow and ice. So it was very difficult to get to these warming centers.

Now, the roads have improved really just in the last day because we finally went above freezing this afternoon. So the roads are getting better. And people can get around and can get help. And help can get to them.

But as far as, you know, every city is approaching their problems differently. Remember, we are the Dallas-Fort Worth area that is comprised of 85 different municipalities. The main cities of Dallas and Fort Worth are doing their best to offer shelter and water now to the residents who just need the help. And there's going to be a lot of people, I'm afraid, over the next couple of days who are going to need still a lot of help, especially with this water issue, Tonya.

- All right. Well, Jeff Ray, thank you so much for keeping us up to date on what's going on in Texas. And we wish you and--

JEFF RAY: Absolutely.

- --all the Texans out there all the luck. Thank you so much.

JEFF RAY: Thank you, Tonya.