Still in crisis mode, Austin City Council initiates recovery following winter storm

A tree's branches fell on a car in North Austin in the midst of Winter Storm Uri in February. With downed tree limbs and burst water lines causing property damage across Austin, the city has directed additional funds into programs to help some homeowners with emergency home repairs. (Iain Oldman/Community Impact Newspaper)
A tree's branches fell on a car in North Austin in the midst of Winter Storm Uri in February. With downed tree limbs and burst water lines causing property damage across Austin, the city has directed additional funds into programs to help some homeowners with emergency home repairs. (Iain Oldman/Community Impact Newspaper)

A tree's branches fell on a car in North Austin in the midst of Winter Storm Uri in February. With downed tree limbs and burst water lines causing property damage across Austin, the city has directed additional funds into programs to help some homeowners with emergency home repairs. (Iain Oldman/Community Impact Newspaper)

As state leaders held hearings on what led to the failure of Texas’s energy system during last week’s winter storms, Austin City Council acknowledged the city and many of its residents were still in the throes of the crisis.

Austin Water Director Greg Meszaros said between 200 and 400 apartment and condo complexes still had no running water as of Feb. 25, as did many single-family homes, due to the “tens of thousands” private water main breaks across the city. On the public side, Meszaros said his team was overwhelmed with hundreds of public main breaks, a workload typically seen over a six- to eight-month period.

As necessary and costly infrastructure repairs pile up for residents, Austin City Council took its initial steps toward recovery during its Feb. 25 emergency meeting by waiving typical permit requirements for plumbing as well as fees related to infrastructure repair and tree-limb removal.

With a seemingly insurmountable number of repairs needing to be made to private water lines, Denise Lucas, director of Austin’s Development Services Department, said the goal of some of the waivers was to increase the number of available plumbers who can legally operate in the local market.

District 10 Council Member Alison Alter said there has been an effort to recruit plumbers from across the country to Austin and Texas in the wake of the storm’s devastation.


The ordinance to waive the permitting requirements and fees extends through March 31; however, City Council signaled that it could extend the deadline during its May 20 meeting.

Meszaros said Austin Water has moved $1 million in its budget to help fund private repairs for Austinites.

Local leaders and utility officials have already confirmed to city residents that they would not see spikes in their utility bills as a result of the winter storms—something residents in other parts of Texas have experienced. City Council took the additional step Feb. 25 to waive all late fees on utility bills.

City Manager Spencer Cronk will now be tasked with leading the local effort of reinforcing city systems against the damage brought on by the storms.

District 4 Council Member Greg Casar requested that a list of the complexes without water be compiled and that the city target those complexes with additional water assistance, such as bringing truckloads of potable and nonpotable water—for toilet flushing. For low- and moderate-income residents, Casar also requested the city support those residents in ensuring the water main fixes are done promptly.

Alter asked for a report on why the city did not lean on its reverse 911 system sooner to alert residents of power and water outages, and District 5 Council Member Ann Kitchen said Cronk should recommend ways to improve the city’s disaster response and notification systems.

City Council is scheduled to meet again March 4. Cronk is expected to bring back a report on his findings at that meeting.
By Christopher Neely
Christopher Neely is Community Impact's Austin City Hall reporter. A New Jersey native, Christopher moved to Austin in 2016 following years of community reporting along the Jersey Shore. His bylines have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Baltimore Sun, USA Today and several other local outlets along the east coast.


MOST RECENT

Austin government, nonprofit and business leaders recently participated in a weeks-long summit centered on unsheltered homelessness in the city. (Ben Thompson/Community Impact Newspaper)
Plan to house 3,000 homeless individuals in Austin in the next three years would cost $515 million

The plan Austin City Council members discussed April 20 emerged from a weekslong community-wide summit on homelessness.

Photo of Zilker Park
Travis County establishes Civilian Conservation Corps to tackle climate, environmental projects

The program will create opportunities for residents to work on projects including wildfire prevention, solar energy promotion and park cleanups.

Residents march to the Texas Capitol in protests after the killing of George Floyd in May 2020. (Community Impact Newspaper staff)
Austin leaders react to Derek Chauvin guilty verdict

The former Minneapolis police officer was found guilty of second-degree murder, third-degree murder and manslaughter for the killing of George Floyd in May 2020.

Austin Public Health Director Stephanie Hayden-Howard speaks to reporters March 13 at the Delco Actiity Center in Northeast Austin. Residents can walk up to the Delco Center on April 22 and 23 and receive vaccines without an appointment. (Jack Flagler/Community Impact Newspaper)
Austin Public Health will accept walk-up vaccinations at the Delco Activity Center starting April 22

APH will also leave its registration portal open throughout most of the week.

Early voting for Travis County's May 1 local elections opened April 19. In this file photo, voters line up ahead of the 2020 primary elections at Millennium Youth Entertainment Complex in East Austin. (Jack Flagler/Community Impact Newspaper)
More than 8,000 Travis County voters cast ballots on first day of early voting

Early voting for the county's May 1 election began April 19 and will run through April 27.

The Delco Activity Center in Northeast Austin is one of the locations where residents can receive a COVID-19 vaccine. (Jack Flalger/Community Impact Newspaper)
Austin vaccine updates: Demand slows as state begins marketing push

Appointments are beginning to go unfilled, and local health officials say demand has caught up to supply. All adults in the U.S. are now eligible to be vaccinated.

Blue Corn Harvest Leander is located at 11840 Hero Way W., Bldg. A, Leander. (Taylor Girtman/Community Impact Newspaper)
Blue Corn Harvest opens in Leander; park, pizzeria launches social club and more Central Texas news

Read the latest business and community news from the Central Texas area.

Photo of two performers on an outdoor SXSW stage
South by Southwest sells ownership stake in company to Rolling Stone owner Penske Media Corp.

SXSW leadership called the sale a "lifeline" for the conference and festivals.

Photo of people receiving vaccines in a gym
Austin Public Health lengthens windows for vaccine appointment signups

Residents age 18 and up can now sign up for appointments with APH any time from Saturday to Tuesday morning.

Austin Anthem watch party
Crowds of fans converge on North Austin to watch inaugural Austin FC game

Breweries around Q2 Stadium in North Austin brought in large outdoor screens and new employees to host fans of Austin FC for the team's historic first match.

Austin Police Department
UPDATE: Loop 360 closed in both directions in Northwest Austin due to a shooting incident

Residents who live in the Arboretum area in Northwest Austin are advised to shelter in place.

Early voting for the May 1 election opens April 19 at a 7 a.m. (Jack Flagler/Community Impact Newspaper)
Early voting in Austin opens April 19: See what’s on the ballot, where to vote

City residents will be making decisions on eight propositions ranging from whether to adopt a strong mayor government system to whether to reinstate public camping bans.