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8.7 Million People Under Boil Water Notices In Texas

Some 8,707,769 people remain under boil water notices in Texas, as utilities struggle to get water pressure back up to safe levels in the wake of catastrophic winter storms and record cold temperatures.

The 8.7 million figure is a sharp drop from the more than 12 million people who were under boil-water notices on Sunday – but it's still roughly comparable to the entire populations of states such as Virginia or New Jersey.

Across the state, 1,259 boil water notices remain in effect, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality said on Monday. The extreme cold weather has caused chaos in Texas for more than a week; only 285 boil-water notices have been lifted so far, according to the agency's data.

The state regulator requires water companies to issue a boil-water notice if unsafe conditions arise, such as if water distribution pressure drops below 20 psi, or if a utility's water disinfection equipment cannot function properly. Because of power outages and burst pipes, those conditions have plagued many Texas communities in the past week.

Those conditions must be improved and water samples must be found safe before a boil-water notice can be lifted. Utilities that have rescinded water notices include the large system in Houston, as Houston Public Media reports. The city advised residents to run cold water for a minute to flush their pipes, among other measures.

People who are affected by a boil-water notice should boil water for at least two minutes before it can be used, the Texas environmental commission says. It adds that boiled water should be used for everything from washing fruit to brewing coffee and brushing teeth.

Emergency agencies and utilities are now operating water distribution centers in communities across Texas. As member station KERA reports, many people who live in the Dallas-Fort Worth area and other parts of North Texas are still relying on such outlets for clean drinking water.

The San Antonio Water System planned to shut down its water distribution centers around noon on Monday, citing success in restoring safe water conditions in more than 80% of its service area. On the city's outskirts, large areas north and west remain under boil-water notices, but they're expected to be declared safe later Monday, as member station Texas Public Radio reports.

In Austin, a boil-water notice that was issued on Wednesday is now lifted for many central neighborhoods, but many other parts of the city remain under the restrictions, according to member station KUT.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.