The pipes beneath my 120-year-old house were no match for the Winter storm of February 2021.
As is crucial with a home on a pier and beam foundation, we heeded the advice of plumbers and local authorities: Our pipes were insulated, a heat cable was installed, and of course, we didn’t just drip; we ran a steady stream of water from each tap.
But it wasn’t enough. On the morning of Feb. 15, the flow stopped. Our pipes had frozen and broken. We weren’t alone, of course. The lives of practically every Texan were impacted. As a result of the winter storm, 2,316 public water systems reported boil water notices, which affected millions of people. Some water systems went offline completely.
When plumbers were eventually able to complete the repairs at our home and the H2O began flowing again, the house had been without running water for 25 days.
In those weeks that followed the big freeze, living without running water gave my family and me a sense of what life must have been like for the cotton farmers who built this house. Those Swedish immigrants settled Williamson County more than a century ago, and surely endured more difficulties than we were.
Even though our house predates indoor plumbing, it’s likely been generations since an outhouse stood anywhere on our property. Thankfully, for a few days, at least, there was still plenty of snow on the ground and sloughing off the roof. Each morning, my kids and I went outside and scooped it into plastic buckets to be melted and used for toilet flushing.
Showering was another challenge. Fortunately, we have some amazing neighbors who invited our entire family—all six of us—into their homes to get cleaned up. Some of those same neighbors even hand-delivered buckets of water when the snow ran out.
Cooking wasn’t difficult, since we never lost electricity like so many other families had. And our natural gas was still flowing. However, the challenge here was washing dishes. So, using our precious bottled water sparingly, we cleaned each item by hand.
We appreciate the fact that thousands of families throughout the state were going through the same thing we were. At the time, knowing we weren’t the only family was little comfort, especially when we began to call plumbers. The demand for plumbing services skyrocketed overnight, making it difficult even to book an appointment for an estimate.
We were also grateful that our homeowners’ insurance not only covered the cost of repairs, but that the company also put us up in a hotel for a few nights. Checking in meant enjoying a shower and flushing a toilet. And that made us feel like kings. That was living.
As our agency’s executive director, Toby Baker, outlined in his recent op-ed, the winter storm revealed vulnerabilities in the state’s water infrastructure. We’re confident that effective and meaningful plans will be implemented in water systems across the state.
But for our family, we have learned not to become complacent with our water use, or to take it for granted. We are keenly aware, as many are, that life is drastically different without this absolutely necessary utility.