REVIEW - US Water Crisis Mounts Amid Political Battle Over Freeze-Induced Power Failure

REVIEW - US Water Crisis Mounts Amid Political Battle Over Freeze-Induced Power Failure

WASHINGTON (UrduPoint News / Sputnik - 20th February, 2021) Half the residents of Texas are suffering through a water shortage crisis as US politicians fight over the failure of the state's electric grid, which was knocked out by deadly winter storms that swept across the country this week.

Deadly snow storms and record frozen temperatures that battered the southern and central portions of the United States this week, along with the northwest state of Oregon, left millions without power and clean drinking water.

By Friday, the death toll associated with the major winter storms climbed to at least 47, according to data compiled by The Washington Post, with the majority being recorded in Texas.

On Tuesday, more than 70% of the US was covered in snow, according to the National Operational Hydrologic Remote Sensing Center (NOHRSC), the highest single-day coverage in almost two decades.

Historically record low temperatures were registered in 21 cities across the United States, the US National Weather Agency said this week.

Scientists have reportedly argued that the rapid heating of the Arctic may have contributed to the anomalous low temperatures in Texas, according to The Guardian. Judah Cohen, the seasonal forecasting director at Atmospheric and Environmental Research, said the rapid Arctic warming pushes cold air from the north pole further south.

"The energy escaping from the jet stream bangs into the polar vortex so it starts to wobble and move all over the place. Where the polar vortex goes, so goes the cold air," Cohen said as quoted by the newspaper.


Some four million homes in Texas were without electricity earlier this week due to disruptions to natural gas and coal generators and nuclear power plants. By Friday evening, power had been restored to all but around 113,000 customers in Texas, the live utility tracker revealed.

In Portland, Oregon more than 600,000 were without power at one point this week. The local power company said by the end of the week power was restored to all but 80,000 customers. Louisiana, Mississippi, Kentucky, Virginia and West Virginia were also hit hard with outages.

The frozen temperatures also caused pipes to break which led to a shortage in clean drinking water throughout the south including Texas, where nearly 15 million of the state's 29 million were affected.

"As of 4:00 p.m., more than 1,300 public water systems have reported disruptions in service due to the weather, affecting more than 14.9 million people, many of them leading to Boil Water Notices," Texas Commission on Environmental Quality Media Specialist Tiffany Young told Sputnik.

According to The New York Times, the problems were especially acute at hospitals where critically ill patients lacked clean drinking water.

Earlier this week, Sputnik correspondents surveyed the damage wrought by these developments in Texas, where several people shared their stories. The unforgiving winter storm left numerous residents stranded in their homes without enough food and firewood to stay warm, while others even slept in tents inside their houses to better conserve heat. Meanwhile, nearby grocery stores were empty after residents went into a panic to get supplies, one resident said.

In addition to water and power crises, the storm will also have a negative impact on efforts to contain the pandemic. The White House said the weather has delayed shipments of six million COVID-19 vaccine doses in all 50 states.

The storms exposed severe weaknesses in the infrastructure of the US energy capital. Critics claim this is partly due to the fact that Texas is the only one of the 48 US continental states to have its own independent power grid.

The Texas Tribune, citing a local official, claimed the state's power grid was "seconds and minutes" away from a catastrophic-level failure that could have left Texans in the dark for "months."

The storm also hammered the US energy industry itself. US crude production is estimated to have fallen 200,000 barrels per day (bpd) as drilling for oil is impacted by snow storms blanketing the country, data from the US Energy Information Administration (EIA) revealed on Thursday.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott on Wednesday said he signed an executive order to halt natural gas exports until February 21 due to the severe winter weather.

Prices of gas skyrocketed this week as a result of the energy shortages. Some customers were hit will power bills that came in at more than $5,000, according to Griddy, a wholesale power provider in Texas.

Democrats in Washington appeared ready to seize on the power grid failure and infrastructure breakdown in Texas, a state run by a Republican governor. On Friday, Congressman Ro Khanna, who heads the House's environmental oversight subcommittee, said a probe would be launched into the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT).

"I'm launching an investigation into how this mess unfolded. We need to know why so many fossil fuel sources failed, why ERCOT wasn't better prepared, & who participated in the conspiracy to falsely blame renewables," Khanna said on Friday referring to accusations by Republicans that frozen windmills were the cause of the crisis. "Once the dust settles here, I also plan to hold a hearing with the leaders responsible for this total meltdown."

On Thursday, a different panel, the US House energy and commerce committee, also launched a probe to examine what created prolonged electricity blackouts. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said at issue is the need to weatherize Texas' energy infrastructure to protect people from future freezes.

To his credit, Abbott, earlier this week ordered an investigation into ERCOT and called for reforms to preclude such a development from occurring again.

Republicans in Congress, however, suggested that alternative energy sources are the culprit. On Tuesday, Congressman Dan Crenshaw said the reason the energy capital of the United States ran out of power is because of frozen wind turbines. In a tweet, the lawmaker said had the Texas grid been more reliant on the wind turbines that froze, "the outages would have been much worse."

US Senator Ted Cruz on Thursday put an early end to his vacation trip to the resort town Cancun, Mexico, after being criticized for leaving Texas as the state struggles with power outages amid a severe winter storm. Democratic congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez slammed Cruz for the move and used the opportunity to outshine him by raising $2 million for Texans. The lawmaker is also flying to the lone star state

President Joe Biden has not made any partisan comments about the situation yet, and has so far simply reached out to Abbott and offered support as reflected in his call with FEMA chief Bob Fenton on Friday.

"Biden also let Acting Administrator Fenton know that he was ready to mobilize other Federal agencies to bring additional support to the people of Texas and ensure that any critical needs are met. He also told the Acting Administrator that he intends to sign Texas's request for a Major Disaster Declaration as soon as FEMA sends over the formal request from Governor Abbott later today," the White House said in a readout.