Severe Winter Weather Creates Plumbing Crisis in the Southwest

Feb. 22, 2021
Snowfall, freezing temperatures and power shortages have combined to create a crisis in water supply and water quality.

On Monday, February 15th, more than a third of the continental U.S. recorded below-zero temperatures. The severe weather made it as far south as Texas, Oklahoma, and Louisiana carrying with it unexpected snow and ice. Texas was hit especially hard. By the end of that Monday, rolling blackouts plagued Texas as the power grid, unable to cope with the conditions, began to fail. At one point more than four million Texans were without power.

Nation-wide, the death toll from the storm stands at 58, according to the Washington Post, with 32 of those deaths in Texas. Deaths came as the result of exposure, carbon monoxide poisoning (due to misused or malfunctioning space heaters), traffic accidents, associated fires and other causes.

Plumbing systems that had never been designed with such conditions in mind failed during the cold snap. Along with the attendant property damage—of which there is not accurate estimate as yet—burst pipes created water shortages and water quality issues throughout the state of Texas. Reporting in the Wall Street Journal on February 19th estimated more than 14 million Texans were without safe drinking water. Urban areas such as Houston, San Antonio and Austin were all under boil water notices, with some residence bringing snow inside their homes in order to flush toilets. (The boil water notice has recently been lifted for many areas.)

The PHCC-NA issued a statement in the wake of the crisis.

PHCC—National Association and its leadership are extremely concerned about the deep freeze-related power outages and water shortages occurring in Texas, Louisiana and Oklahoma. The PHCC—National Association has received calls from PHCC chapters whose PHCC members in other states are looking to also provide support to include potential emergency repair of consumers’ plumbing and HVAC systems if requested.

Discussions also are underway with our network of partners who may help us provide the type of assistance that our impacted PHCC members and/or PHCC chapter leaders determine will be of greatest value. If you have an interest in providing assistance to these impacted states, please fill out this form developed by the PHCC of Texas. In the meantime, the PHCC Disaster Relief Fund is available for donations or to request assistance. 

According to the Houston, TX ABC-affiliate, Governor Greg Abbot was quoted as saying busted water pipes "may be the largest challenge in the next week" for Texans. To that end, the state has been working to grow the ranks of available plumbers, and as of noon on Feb. 19th over 320 had renewed their license.

The state plumbing board is also coordinating with out-of-state companies to bring more plumbers to Texas. Abbott's office announced it is giving out provisional permits to out-of-state plumbers, and waiving some fees and examination requirements for plumbers whose licenses have expired.

Bramlett Residential, an Austin-based real estate company, also provided the following links for those interested in making donations:

Warming Centers in Texas

Feed the People Dallas Mutual Aid

Mutual Aid Houston

Austin Pets Alive

About the Author

Steve Spaulding | Editor-inChief - CONTRACTOR

Steve Spaulding is Editor-in-Chief for CONTRACTOR Magazine. He has been with the magazine since 1996, and has contributed to Radiant Living, NATE Magazine, and other Endeavor Media properties.

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