© 2021
In touch with the world ... at home on the High Plains
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Water Woes Continue In Fort Worth, City Still Fixing Water Mains

Water Woes Continue in Fort Worth, City Still Fixing Water Mains

Fort Worth has seen more water main breaks since Feb. 14 than it did in all of 2020.

The Fort Worth water department is still fixing the breaks after last week's bitter cold — and it hopes to have the work done in the next few days.

Water Director Chris Harder told the City Council Tuesday that aging cast iron pipes that make up a good chunk of the city's water system are the likely culprits.

He said last year, 83% of all water main breaks happened in cast iron pipes.

"We have a system that has, between wastewater and water, over 7,000 miles of pipe," Harder said. "So getting this old pipe that has bad condition out of the system is a priority."

Fort Worth Water also lost power in three out of four plants, making it impossible to go gently on the cast iron pipes as planned.

Harder said the utility is considering ways to prepare plants better for cold snaps in the future, like keeping generators on hand.

New Program Helps Fort Worth Residents Whose Houses Were Damaged By Winter Storm

A new program will help Fort Worth residents whose homes were impacted by the winter storms.

Water line, gas line and water heater repairs will be available through the Waterline Assistance through Emergency Repairs program (WATER). The program is for households with an income below 80% of the area median income.

“We are adjusting our existing and successful Priority Repair Program to make a nimble move to assist distressed residents who have been impacted by the severe winter storm,” said Victor Turner, director of the Neighborhood Services Department.

There are no upfront or out-of-pocket costs for eligible residents, and the program aims to finish repairs within 10 days of completing the application. WATER covers repairs for residents who have homeowners insurance coverage, as well as those who lack coverage.

Assistance can be accessed more quickly through the Priority Repair application.

Neighborhood Services staff members can assist residents with their application, which is available on tablets and personal computers. Application documents can also be uploaded from mobile phone cameras.

To learn more, call 817-392-7548 or visit the priority repair page.

Gov. Abbott Announces Federal Approval For Automatic SNAP Benefit Replacements

Gov. Abbott announced Wednesday the Texas Health and Human Services commission (HHSC) has received federal approval to provide replacement SNAP benefits.

Recipients in 66 counties affected by the winter storm are eligible. They'll automatically receive a percentage of their February benefit allotment on their Lone Star cards by March 4.

"As we recover from the severe winter storm, we are ensuring that Texans affected by this storm can continue to put food on the table,” Gov. Abbott said.

Wayne Salter, Texas HHS Access and Eligibility Services deputy executive commissioner, said the replacement benefits will help families return back to their normal lives.

Counties eligible to receive automatic partial replacement include: Angelina, Aransas, Bastrop, Blanco, Borden, Brazoria, Brewster, Burnet, Calhoun, Chambers, Coke, Colorado, Comanche, Cooke, Delta, Duval, Eastland, Edwards, Falls, Frio, Galveston, Garza, Gillespie, Glasscock, Goliad, Haskell, Irion, Jim Wells, Kenedy, Kerr, Kinney, Knox, La Salle, Leon, Liberty, Live Oak, Llano, Loving, Lynn, Martin, Matagorda, McCulloch, Medina, Menard, Mitchell, Montgomery, Oldham, Parker, Reagan, Refugio, San Patricio, San Saba, Stephens, Sterling, Sutton, Terrell, Throckmorton, Trinity, Upton, Uvalde, Val Verde, Waller, Williamson, Young, Zapata, and Zavala.

SNAP recipients in the 66 counties can also report other food loss and request additional benefits until March 31.

Texans who do not live in one of the 66 eligible counties have until March 31 to report SNAP food loss and request replacement benefits. SNAP recipients in these counties must apply for replacement benefits.

SNAP clients can request their replacement food benefits by calling 2-1-1 and pressing option 2. Alternately, recipients can download Form H1855 on the HHSC website. Recipients are encouraged to mail or fax the completed form to HHSC instead of visiting their local offices. Completed forms should be mailed to Texas Health and Human Services Commission, PO Box 149027, Austin, TX, 78714-9027, or faxed to 1-877-447-2839. For more information, please visit hhs.texas.gov.

To check benefit amounts deposited on a card, SNAP recipients with an online account can visit YourTexasBenefits.com, or they can call the Lone Star Help Desk at 800-777-7328.

City Of Denton Utility Spends $200 Million Plus On Power During Storm

The Denton City Council Tuesday approved city management issuing more debt — if needed — to shore up Denton Municipal Electric.

Between Tuesday and Friday last week, the city-owned utility spent $207 million buying electricity from the state's grid operator. That's more than three times what the utility paid buying electricity in all of fiscal year 2020.

Paying last week's bills left the utility with practically no cash on hand. At the meeting, Denton Mayor Gerald Hudspeth said increasing the amount of short-term debt city staff can issue gives them flexibility needed to meet unforeseen challenges.

"Staff is just trying to keep the power on and the utilities flowing for our residents," Hudspeth said. "I don't know what else we can ask a municipal electric but for to provide for those who have had a really tough week, to make sure we have future tough weeks."

Freezing temperatures last week hampered Texas power generators' ability to supply enough electricity to meet demand. That forced the Electric Reliability Council of Texas to order rolling blackouts — and it sent electricity prices soaring.

Denton operates its own small natural gas power plant, but a gas shortage and frozen machinery rendered it inoperable during the worst of the storm. That forced the city to buy electricity on the open market until the weather warmed back up.

Read more from KERA's Christopher Connelly.

San Antonio's Bexar County Investigating Storm Deaths

It remains unclear how many Texans died because of last week's winter storm — but one of the largest counties in the state is forming an investigative team to determine whether freezing temperatures and blackouts contributed to deaths.

Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar announced the initiative Tuesday. He said they're investigating 15 known deaths including that of a 69-year-old man.

“That male was found dead in his home and his home was at 35 degrees inside the house," Salazar said.

Meanwhile, officials in Houston's Harris County and Austin's Travis County have launched investigations into what led to the massive power outages. State and federal officials are also investigating.

Environmental Groups Alarmed By Storm Related Pollution

Environmental groups are sounding the alarm about 3.5 million pounds of extra pollution industrial facilities released into the air when the Texas power grid failed last week amid frigid temperatures.

Nearly 200 sites, such as oil refineries and petrochemical plants, emitted toxic chemicals.

Elena Craft, with the Environmental Defense Fund, said air pollution often spikes during extreme weather events.

“You have facilities that are coming on or offline, they’re having to flare product, product that they normally would handle in other ways," Craft said. "There could be structural damage at the facility itself, there are just any number of things that could contribute to this increase in pollution.”

Craft said the crisis shows Texas must prepare for future disasters fueled by climate change.

Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick Calls For Major Changes To ERCOT

The Lieutenant Governor is floating major changes for the state's electric grid operator in response to last week's deadly winter storm that left millions in the dark for days.

Republican Dan Patrick said Monday he may form a committee in the Texas Senate focused on overhauling the Electric Reliability Council of Texas.

"We'll come up with recommendations that we'll expect to be followed. Is that a total revamping of ERCOT? Maybe. More winterization? Maybe. Different pricing schedule in emergencies? Absolutely."

Patrick also promised relief for sky-high utility bills. ERCOT leaders are set to testify on the power grid failures in Texas House and Senate hearings Thursday.

Governor Greg Abbott has designated reforming ERCOT and winterizing the state's power system as emergency items for the legislative session.

Winter Storm Stalls Texas Agriculture Industry

The historic winter storm last week brought Texas’ agriculture industry to a halt. Now, farmers and consumers will feel the impact.

Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller said the freeze forced dairy farmers to dump gallons of unpasteurized milk as processing plants were left without power. For other farmers, the cold cost them their crops and livestock.

“So you're gonna see shortages in the grocery store...all these prices going up when consumers can least afford it from all the repair bills they’re gonna have from the cold and being off work and dealing with the COVID pandemic.”

Miller said he has opened up the State Agriculture Relief Fund for farmers to receive reimbursements for storm infrastructure repairs.

The STAR fund is made possible by private donations. For more information on donating or applying, visit texasagriculture.gov.

Internal Revenue Service Will Give Texans More Time To File Taxes

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is pushing back tax filing deadlines for Texans affected by the winter storm. People living in all of the state's 254 counties are eligible.

Texans have until June 15 to file individual and business tax returns, make tax payments or 2020 contributions to individual retirement accounts (IRAs).

If you receive a late filing or late payment penalty notice that falls during the postponement period, the IRS says to call the number on the notice to get the penalty removed.

Applying For FEMA Assistance

Texans in 77 counties, including Dallas, Tarrant, Denton, Denton, can apply for federal disaster assistance from FEMA. Apply at disasterassistance.gov or call 800-621-3362 (TTY: 800-462-7585). The toll-free telephone lines operate from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.

If you have insurance and are applying for disaster assistance, you must also file a claim with your insurance company as soon as possible, according to FEMA. By law, FEMA cannot duplicate benefits for losses covered by insurance. If insurance does not cover all your damage, you may be eligible for federal assistance.

Assistance may include money for temporary housing and home repairs, low-interest loans to cover uninsured property and other programs to help people and business owners recover from the effects of this week's storms.

Residents of the following Texas counties are eligible for assistance: Angelina, Aransas, Bastrop, Bee, Bell, Bexar, Blanco, Brazoria, Brazos, Brown, Burleson, Caldwell, Calhoun, Cameron, Chambers, Collin, Comal, Comanche, Cooke, Coryell, Dallas, Denton, DeWitt, Ellis, Falls, Fort Bend, Galveston, Gillespie, Grimes, Guadalupe, Hardin, Harris, Hays, Henderson, Hidalgo, Hood, Jasper, Jefferson, Johnson, Kaufman, Kendall, Lavaca, Liberty, Madison, Matagorda, Maverick, McLennan, Montague, Montgomery, Nacogdoches, Nueces, Orange, Palo Pinto, Panola, Parker, Polk, Rockwall, Sabine, San Jacinto, San Patricio, Scurry, Shelby, Smith, Stephens, Tarrant, Travis, Tyler, Upshur, Van Zandt, Victoria, Walker, Waller, Wharton, Wichita, Williamson, Wilson, and Wise.

Tarrant Area Food Bank Will Hold Additional Food Distribution Events

The Tarrant Area Food Bank will have two mass distribution events, one on Thursday and one on Friday.

On Thursday, there will be an event at Globe Life Field in Arlington, in Parking Lot M near the corner of AT&T Way and Nolan Ryan Expressway. This event will run from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

On Friday, the food bank's Weekly Mega Mobile Market will take place at Herman Clark Stadium in Fort Worth, 5201 CA Robertson Blvd. Distribution time will be from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Volunteers are needed to assist with registration, traffic control, and food distribution. You can sign up at tafb.galaxydigital.com.

Urban Water Systems Will Be Prioritized, Says Environmental Official

Millions of Texans still do not have access to safe or running water in the wake of last week's deadly winter storm. Toby Baker, head of Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, said at a Sunday press conference that once large water systems in cities are up and running, there will be an effort to help rural areas.

"As these big systems come off we're going to try to get those utility workers to not stop and go help some of their smaller neighbors around them," he said.

Just days ago, nearly 15 million Texans did not have safe drinking water.

Texas Attorney General Traveled To Utah During Winter Storm

Attorney General Ken Paxton left Texas last week during its deadly winter storm to travel to Utah for meetings with his counterpart there, according to The Dallas Morning News.

A spokesperson for Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes told the publication that Paxton was in Utah because the two Republicans had a meeting that day. And the attorneys general met multiple times over the course of several days, according to Paxton’s campaign spokesperson Ian Prior.

It is unclear why the visit was not rescheduled.

The Texas attorney general’s office serves a critical function during crises, including protecting the public from price gouging and post-emergency scams that may arise from emergencies.

SNAP Benefits Can Now Be Used Toward Ready-To-Eat Foods

SNAP recipients will be able to use their food benefits to purchase hot foods and ready-to-eat meals, such as rotisserie chickens and grocery store deli foods.

The Texas Health and Human Services Services Commission received federal approval Sunday to expand these benefits in the aftermath of last week's winter storm.

"We’re doing everything we can for Texans who were affected by this extreme winter storm,” said Wayne Salter, HHS Access and Eligibility Services deputy executive commissioner in a press release. “These added federal flexibilities will go a long way in helping SNAP clients feed their families.”

The waiver allows recipients to use their Lone Star Cards to purchase these ready-made foods, and the benefits remain in place through the end of March.

SNAP recipients can also apply for replacement benefits for food lost or destroyed due to the severe weather. People can request their replacement food benefits by dialing 2-1-1 and selecting option 2.

Recipients can also download and print Form H1855, the Affidavit for Nonreceipt or Destroyed Food Stamp Benefits, and mail or fax the completed form to HHSC. Completed forms should be mailed to Texas Health and Human Services Commission, PO Box 149027, Austin, TX, 78714-9027, or faxed to (877) 447-2839.

Will Hurd Tells ‘Meet The Press’ Storm Was ‘100% Preventable’

In an exclusive interview with NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday, former Rep. Will Hurd (R-Texas) talks about last week’s winter storm, which left millions of Texans without power and water.

He said that it boiled down to a lack of leadership and lack of preparedness.

“This wasn't a problem with any individual fuel source, this was a problem of lack of leadership and lack of long term planning,” he said.

And he said state leaders should stop finger pointing and look for solutions.

“Instead of using this as a political bludgeon against one another, we should be talking about the serious issues, about reliability, about how the Texas grid increases its connections with the other grids around us,” he said.

The Texas legislature holds hearings this week into why last week’s winter storm knocked out power for millions of people.

Gov. Abbott Says Help Is On The Way For People With Expensive Power Bills

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott is pledging state action to help people facing sky-high electricity bills after last week’s winter storm. The unusually bad weather sent the price of electricity sky high, and some customers were particularly vulnerable to price spikes.

The electric bill for Shannon Marrs’ family in January was just under $260.

So far, the February electric bill for the Dallas-area family is more than $10,000.

"You know, we were trying to explain this to our 7-year-old kids, how much money this meant, Marrs said. "We said ‘this could be a car.’"

Texas’ deregulated electricity market allows for the sale of unusual policies like the ones the Marrs have, which is designed to fluctuate with the market.

When the price of electricity spiked dramatically during last weeks’ brutal winter storm, the Marrs couldn’t get out from under their plan and ended up paying more than a $1,000 a day for power.

State and federal officials are beginning investigations of last week's blackouts in Texas.

The state legislature will hold hearings Thursday looking into why the storm knocked out power for millions of people as temperatures dipped into the single digits.

The state’s attorney general has also sent demands for records from many of the state’s biggest power generators. Plus, federal energy regulators have opened an investigation too.

A lot of the attention has been paid to the state’s grid operator and electricity suppliers — but lax regulations and oversight may also have played a role in the crisis.

Sunday, Abbott said some lessons have already been learned.

“Texas as a state must step up and ensure that all of our power generation is winterized — and that includes every power source that plugs into the Texas grid," he said.

A federal investigation into blackouts in Texas in 2011 also recommended better weatherization of power plants.

The state Public Utility Commission has now issued a moratorium on energy shutoffs as state lawmakers consider options.

Texas Agency Bans Utility Cutoffs For Failure To Pay

The Public Utility Commission of Texas has implemented a ban on utility cutoffs for consumers who don’t pay their bills. The move does not apply to cooperatives or to municipality-owned utilities like CPS in San Antonio or Austin Energy.

Commission chair DeAnn Walker introduced the order during a Sunday afternoon emergency meeting. She explained that the commission met on Sunday — when disconnections aren’t allowed — to ensure that no consumer cutoffs begin on Monday.

“I'm telling y'all this: it is my desire to have a directive to all retail electric providers that they not submit a request for disconnect for non-pay during this time period, until we get the financial part of this worked out, which I'm hoping will be soon,” she said.

In addition to retail electric providers, the order covers water and sewer utilities.

Read more from TPR News.

Dallas Mavericks Give $1.1 Million Toward Storm Recovery

Sunday, Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson announced that the Dallas Mavericks organization is donating $1.1 million to the Mayor’s Disaster Relief Fund.

Mavericks players Dwight Powell, Luka Doncic, Tim Hardaway Jr., and Maxi Kleber donated to the fund. Team owner Mark Cuban, President & CEO Cynt Marshall, plus the Mavs Foundation and Chime also contributed.

“There are so many of our fellow Dallasites without food, water and shelter during this devastating winter storm, and we would be remiss if we did not help in some way,” Mavericks center and power forward Powell said in a statement. “I hope that our contributions will give relief to those struggling during this time.”

The Mavericks and the mayor’s office have partnered on multiple previous initiatives, including relief efforts after the devastating October 2019 tornado and during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Our residents are hurting right now, and this donation will be a tremendous help to those in need as we deal with property damage, displacements, water accessibility, and other related issues,” Johnson said in a release from the city. “I hope others will also consider donating whatever they can to the Mayor’s Disaster Relief Fund and other reputable local organizations as we begin our recovery.”

Biden Declares Major Disaster In Texas

President Joe Biden has approved a disaster declaration for the state of Texas, the White House announced Saturday.

The declaration means that federal assistance will be available to help supplement state and local recovery efforts affected by the severe winter weather. The declaration applies to 77 counties in Texas, including Dallas, Tarrant, Denton, Collin and Rockwall. Other major Texas counties are part of the declaration, including Harris, Travis and Bexar.

“Assistance can include grants for temporary housing and home repairs, low-cost loans to cover uninsured property losses, and other programs to help individuals and business owners recover from the effects of the disaster,” a White House statement said. “Federal funding is also available to state and eligible local governments and certain private nonprofit organizations on a cost-sharing basis for emergency protective measures and hazard mitigation measures statewide.”

The White House says additional designations could be issued.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott's office says individual assistance would be available in the 77 counties included in the president's declaration, while public assistance, for emergency purposes only, would be available for all 254 counties across the state.

"I thank President Biden for his assistance as we respond to impacts of winter weather across our state," Abbott said in a statement. "While this partial approval is an important first step, Texas will continue to work with our federal partners to ensure all eligible Texans have access to the relief they need.”

Public Utility Commission of Texas Announces Investigation Into Power Failures, Will Examine Its Own Actions

The Public Utility Commission of Texas has opened a wide-ranging investigation into the power failures across the state. The commission regulates water and electricity utilities in Texas, and it has oversight of ERCOT, the operator of the electric grid. But the commission might not have enough resources for the investigation.

The fury of the public and policymakers has largely been directed at ERCOT, but the Public Utility Commission is the agency with actual regulatory power. Because the commission's own investigation will have to look inwards at times, the commissioners considered bringing in a third party.

DeAnn Walker, the Public Utility Commission chair, explained why that might not be possible.

“I don't even know if we have the money to do it,” Walker said. “But I don't … think we have the staff to be able to do a heavy lift on this.” There wouldn’t be enough money for a third party investigation, and not enough staff to do it on its own, she said.

Read more from TPR News.

ERCOT’s Rolling Blackouts Draw First Lawsuit

The rolling blackouts resulted in a lawsuit filed Friday in a Nueces County court at law in Corpus Christi, claiming ERCOT ignored repeated warnings of weaknesses in the state’s power infrastructure.

A Dallas law firm alleged ERCOT and the American Electric Power utility caused property damage and business interruptions during the cold wave.

No response yet from ERCOT or AEP.

Read more from the Associated Press.

Plano Opens Recreation Centers For Showers

The city of Plano is allowing residents to take showers at several recreation centers. Starting Sunday, residents can visit the Carpenter Park and Tom Muehlenbeck centers as well as the Plano Aquatic Center. The Carpenter Park and Tom Muehlenbeck centers will be open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., while the aquatic center will be open from 1 to 6 p.m.

Face masks are required. People should bring personal toiletries, such as towels, wash clothes and shampoo. Participants will be asked to check in at the front desk and show a license to verify residency.

Dallas Short-Term Rental Alliance Offers Emergency Accommodations

Members of the Dallas Short-Term Rental Alliance are connecting those who need shelter to available rentals that have power, heat, and water. The Emergency Short-Term Accommodations Program is seeking both hosts and people who need shelter, and people in either category can visit the website to request shelter or sign up to host.

"Short-term rentals are not just a singled out community or ecosystem, but we are a part of this city,” said Danielle Lindsey, owner of rental service Prepped Place. “We are not just dwellings for entertainment, we are shelter providers and experience makers, and when the going gets tough, we step up to the plate. When the hotels were overcrowded or without power, we opened our doors and our staff took risks to ensure others were able to survive. With kindness we gave rest and comfort to the worried.”

Prepped Place readied all 76 of the properties in their program early this week and all immediately booked up.

Carter BloodCare Urges Community To Donate Blood

Carter BloodCare is urging the community to donate blood once they open their doors on Thursday. Blood supply is low due to the winter snowstorm and pandemic.

“Nationwide, the blood supply is crippled,” Veronica Moore, vice president of Carter’s organizational relations, said. “We have struggled daily to meet hospital demands for patients throughout the pandemic, but the effects of this winter storm amplify an already insufficient supply.”

Moore said it’s uncertain how many donation locations will be open on Thursday, but that community members can visit their website for the most updated information.

KERA News is made possible through the generosity of our members. If you find this reporting valuable, consider making a tax-deductible gift today. Thank you.

Copyright 2021 KERA