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Under Boil-Water Orders, Texas Water Supply Is Strained

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

As power returns to some Texas residents, many face problems with water service and safety. As member station KERA's Bret Jaspers reports from Dallas, millions of people are under boil water notices, and thousands have no water at all.

BRET JASPERS, BYLINE: Carolina Jackson lives in the city of Fort Worth. She's one of the people living under a boil water notice.

CAROLINA JACKSON: Once I found out, I was like, oh, great. I don't know how much we've already consumed, so hopefully we don't get sick. But so far, so good.

JASPERS: It's not just Fort Worth. Parts of cities across the state, including in Houston, Austin and San Antonio, are under boil orders. LouAnn Campbell is a spokeswoman with the city of Tyler.

LOUANN CAMPBELL: The water pressure is below levels that are required by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, TCEQ, and that water pressure maintains optimal safety for the water. So we can't meet that pressure.

JASPERS: If the pressure drops too low, it raises the risk for contamination, which is why the water needs to be boiled. Tyler's problem originated with a power outage at a pumping plant. The power is now returned there. But lost power isn't the only thing causing low pressure. Around the state, there's been a big increase in demand from customers.

Denise Hickey is with the North Texas Municipal Water District.

DENISE HICKEY: We're having problems delivering the water to the cities as fast as the cities are using it.

JASPERS: Hickey's agency serves about 80 cities in North Texas. She says during a typical winter day, they deliver 250 million gallons of water. On Tuesday, they delivered over 350 million gallons.

HICKEY: That's a hundred million gallons more just in one day. So that was over what our normal is.

JASPERS: The cause of the high demand is anything from more people at home, to burst pipes and water main breaks. As infrastructure at water systems and homes unfreezes, there can be cracks and other damage, further jeopardizing service. Local officials are urging residents to conserve.

Victoria Nakamura is with the city of Denton.

VICTORIA NAKAMURA: At this point, we're just emphasizing any form of conservation. We're grateful for that and we're thankful for that.

JASPERS: And some cities are even asking people to not follow the time-honored advice for avoiding a burst pipe - trickling the faucet. Luis Pino of Fort Worth is keeping his water flowing for now.

LUIS PINO: I know my water bill is going to be hell next month, but, you know, it's going to cost me more if I shut them and then, all of a sudden, everything freezes.

JASPERS: And temperatures will stay near or below freezing until Friday.

For NPR News, I'm Bret Jaspers in Dallas. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.