| San Antonio Water helps rescue community from arctic blast
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San Antonio Water helps rescue community from arctic blast

When a mid-February arctic blast immobilized communities across Texas, Oklahoma and other nearby states, water systems were slammed with frozen pumps and mains, electricity outages, plummeting water pressures and water outages. In the aftermath, a flood of customers experienced burst pipes and a lack of access to reliable running water.

Icy pump stationLike many of the impacted water utilities, San Antonio Water System (SAWS) had hundreds of employees working around the clock to restore operations and help the community cope with the unprecedented impacts of the extreme freezing and thawing conditions. (Pictured right, icy pump station)

Turning off waterSAWS crews in the field logged more than 95,000 miles in dangerous road conditions while staff volunteers armed with T-bars staunched leaks at homes and businesses by turning water off at the meters. Others helped out at SAWS’ bulk water distribution sites and the city’s bottled water locations. (Pictured left, worker turning off water)

As it became apparent there would be thousands of homes with water pipe damage, local community leaders quickly recognized the hardship this would impose on their many elderly, special needs and limited-income homeowners, particularly those without insurance. Working with the mayor and the San Antonio Area Foundation, SAWS launched a new customer assistance program – Community Pipe Repair (CPR).

Plumber working with SAWS customersCPR helps qualifying homeowners and renters arrange for a licensed plumber to repair freeze-damaged pipes and covers the cost of restoring water flow to faucets, toilets, bathtubs and showers, up to $1,500. The temporary program is funded completely through tax-deductible donations. Qualification is based on income and home value. (Pictured right, pipe repair assistance)

To date, contributions to CPR total more than $1 million, including more than $50,000 from SAWS employees and other individuals. A host of local foundations and corporations are supporting the program and managing donations. More than 400 applications for help were received in the first 24 hours of the program and 1,200 throughout the week.

“We have an incredible community that stepped up really fast to help,” said Karen Guz, SAWS conservation director. She said the mayor, SAWS President and CEO Robert Puente, and other leaders worked out the details and mechanisms for the program over a weekend and the donation website was up and running in 24 hours.

“San Antonio has a lot of elderly people in their 80s and 90s who live alone in older homes that haven’t had a lot of updating over the years,” added Guz, whose department is managing the CPR program. 

Weathering SAWS infrastructure“There hasn’t been a freeze this low and this long in the last 100 years,” she said. “In some cases, plumbers have had to do a complete reroute from the service line. In others, everything you can imagine went wrong with four or five pipes broken inside the home, including in the attic and within the walls.” (Pictured right, weatherizing equipment)

Throughout the challenges of the past weeks, Guz said SAWS employees have remained focused on their customers. “We all just want things to be back to normal for them,” she said. “There’s nothing that water utilities hate more than to fail to provide water service in a crisis.”

(Photos courtesy of SAWS)