Climate Change And The Lone Star State

19 Feb 2021 by The Water Diplomat
AUSTIN TX, United States

This Water Diplomat article has been updated 20 February.

US President Joe Biden declared a major disaster 20 February in the US State of Texas, allowing more federal funds to be releasd for emergency assistance (White House Statement here).

Power is returning across Texas and temperatures are set to rise but some 13 million people are still facing difficulties accessing clean water. 

Biden has said he will visit Texas as long as his presence is not a burden on relief efforts. 

Nearly 60 deaths have been attributed to cold weather across the US in recent days.

In an ealier statement released by the White House, President Biden said he had "ordered federal assistance to supplement state and local recovery efforts in the areas affected by severe winter storms".

"Assistance can include grants for temporary housing and home repairs, low-cost loans to cover uninsured property losses, and other programmes to help individuals and business owners recover from the effects of the disaster," the statement said.

Multiple days of unprecedented freezing temperatures and related rolling power blackouts have led to authorities across Texas to issue boil-water notices in the face of dangerously low, and possibly unsafe, levels of drinking water.

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) reported 17 February that more than 700 public water systems in 141 Texas counties have reported disruptions in service, affecting nearly 12 million people, about half the state’s population. Nearly 264,000 Texans live in areas where water systems are reported to be completely nonoperational.

US climate change deniers have falsely blamed Texas' power outage on renewable energy failures and a possible future US "New Green Deal". Ill-informed conflation of weather, climate change and global warming led to a rebuke this week by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres who said that it's "complete ignorance" to suggest severe winters prove the planet isn't warming.

"This is total lack of scientific knowledge, this is complete ignorance...If you look at hurricanes, if you look at storms, but also if you look at heat waves and cold waves, they are becoming more extreme because of climate change...Climate change amplifies", Guterres added. (Reuters)

In response to whether climate change is to blame for the intense winter weather in the US, the UN chief said global warming could make "all storms, all oscillations ... more extreme."

Liz Sherwood-Randall, White House homeland security adviser, said 18 February that  "The extreme weather events that we're experiencing this week across the central, southern and now the eastern United States do yet again demonstrate to us that climate change is real, and it's happening now, and we're not adequately prepared for it...Power grids across our country, particularly in Texas, are overloaded by the demands that are placed on them under these circumstances, and the infrastructure is not built to withstand these extreme conditions".

Lower water pressure in Texas have also led to quality issues, with the TCEQ advising widespread bacteriological testing to demonstrate that water is safe to drink before boil notices can be lifted. Sample testing takes about 24 hours and there are 135 labs in the state that do that sampling, suggesting that the notices could stay in place for some indefinite period of time.

Current advice to residents is to close water taps, especially if the pipe has already burst. An appeal has been made to conserve water, in some places as much as up to 50 Percent, in order to make more available for critical infrastructure such as hospitals and firefighting.

Authorities are concerned about return to service as continuing freezing temperatures have been forecast for 19-21 February. It is unclear when full service can be restored with energy constraints continuing to impact the water system with respect to water treatment and pumping. Freezing pipes continue to be a concern.

The US Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has supplied generators to Texas, including for water supply networks, and is moving diesel fuel into the state to ensure the continued availability of backup power to key critical infrastructure, especially to hospitals,