February 21, 2021

More Problems for the Infrastructure in Texas

XKCD Dependency

People don't appreciate how thin the line is on a technological civilization. It is like a house of cards in many ways, or like this comic from XKCD. While the XKCD comic is about digital infrastructure, it could also be about most infrastructure. As power is restored for most Texans, water problems begin to mount.

And electric power is probably at the base of everything we do today.

Leaks caused by frozen pipes have pushed the state's water supplies to the brink. More than 14.9 million Texans, more than half the state's population, have disruptions in service, according to Tiffany Young, a spokeswoman for the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. More than 1,300 water supply systems and 62% of Texas counties are affected.

Say it again: More than 14 million people in Texas have no water. No drinking water. No water for sanitation. No water for cooking.

While you can go about your business if it was just that your power was out, once that power is restored, (you probably have a refridgerator full of spoiled food) if your pipes freeze, that is another kettle of fish. Plumbing will need to be ripped out and replaced. Carpets will probably need to be replaced. Drywall doesn't hold up well to being soaked. The lead photo at the CNN article linked at the top is of a ceiling fan, with icicles... Not all electrical appliances, like fans and such, respond well to being doused in water and then frozen.

And hindsight being 2020, someone, somewhere should have warned the people in Texas about frozen pipes and told them how to drain the system. Though there is a question in my mind of whether or not they would have believed it. (Freezing pipes? That can't happen in Texas!)

Next up will be the problem of how far into the future plumbers will be booked. They will do their own homes. Then their parents' homes. Then their friends...

The Organic Prepper actually has the more interesting take than CNN. Things Keep Getting EVEN WORSE in Texas: Frigid Temps, Blackouts, and an "Overwhelmed" Water System - The Organic Prepper

It’s important to keep in mind that the current weather conditions are very unusual for Texas. Many homes there aren’t built to withstand temperatures that freeze water pipes or with secondary heating systems that aren’t connected to the grid. The municipal infrastructures were also unprepared for weather of this magnitude.

I would say that today, in most places in the US, if the grid goes down for an extended time, people will be without heat. Oh, they might have a fireplace, but they don't have a stock of wood. Furnaces rely on fans, and digital thermostats.

There is also good info at The Organic Prepper's Prepping for a Blizzard: A Practical Survival Guide

We are told that renewable energy is good for the environment. How much energy will be burned in Texas over the coming year to fix this disaster, to boil water, to haul carpeting to the landfill, to manufacture new carpeting, and new plumbing fixtures and new drywall?

4 comments:

  1. A plumber friend explained how pipe freeze damaged changed big here in colorado with the change over to PEX from metal copper. House's in the mountains loose power frequently, when people are away and then freeze. Lots of work to fix split pipes. Almost 90% less service calls when pex plumbing freeze's since it doesn't burst. Fixtures and faucets can freeze or metal elbows. But very unlikely. AquaPex is like having insurance policy for plumbing. I would never install pvc or copper, even soft copper.

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  2. I've been covering my experiences in Houston at https://www.ttgnet.com/journal/

    Most people that have planned or prepped at all just treated this as a cold hurricane. There are pluses and minuses to that approach. We are pretty well versed in 'no water coming out of the pipes' and flooding from the ground up. Much less versed in flooding from the top down (most have pipes in the attic.)

    I've been helping neighbors patch up their pipes. It's usually just one piece/fitting/ or short pipe that breaks. and yeah, no plumbers for a while, and the ones there are can't get parts. I've offered my stash to the neighborhood but only had takers on my street.

    You also can't get a dumpster, but after hurricanes we just pile the debris on the curb anyway.

    So much of this could have been avoided by just shutting off and draining out the water. It's what I did at home and my rent house. Then WATCH CAREFULLY when you turn it back on. So many people didn't do that though.

    As soon as the political reasons for bashing Texas fade, so will the stories. We had much more devastation after Harvey and those stories were gone from the news in a week or two.

    n

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    Replies
    1. The only people in Texas who deserve bashing - political or otherwise - are the people running the electric grid.

      As for the draining of pipes... I saw comments on one site from a Texan who "never heard of such a thing." If you told that person (they weren't alone) what to do and gave explicit instructions on how to winterize a house, I don't think that they would have done it.

      As for Harvey, the 2 people who deserved bashing are the governor and the mayor of Houston who couldn't give the same advice. Leave or stay? (If a category 4 or 5 hurricane is headed your way, my advice is to get out of Dodge. Early)

      Well, and the people who after their neighborhoods flooded complained that the "Obscure real estate document" known as the official plat, noted that the area areas their homes were in were subject to “controlled inundation.”. I noted at the time that every real estate contract I ever signed included wording about accepting everything in the Public Record. The plat sort of defines the public record.

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  3. As for the Texas power grid, the state deregulated the market. All power sellers (who are not necessarily producers) compete on price. The power plants I am most familiar with work very hard at all-weather reliability because being available when power is short is how the owners make money. Demand versus supply means most power producers lose money spring and fall, and many only break even in the winter. Marginal producers will cut winterizing corners because they can’t handle the expense. A bundle of power resellers are likely to be bankrupted by the expense of obtaining power at the spot price during the storm.

    As far as water goes, most south Texans know around 25 degrees and below, their pipes need care. I’ll go out on a limb and say that care plans assume the house is still heated. When the dark house drops to 45 degrees inside, care for burst pipes is going to be a problem. Fortunately for me, I never lost power and I had re-plumbed with PEX as an insurance. My municipal water supply, however, was just a trickle.

    More people in Texas need to get familiar with the process to shut off water and drain the house if power is lost in a winter storm. Of all the things Houston news advised, shutting off water wasn’t there until after the storm.

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