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Texans Turn To The Hunt For Fresh Water After A Long, Hard Week

A man in army fatigues holds jugs of plastic water in front of a pickup truck filled with water jugs and next to a tanker truck, where several people are lined up to fill up jugs.
Christopher Connelly
Volunteers, city workers and members of the Texas Army National Guard help distribute water to residents.

Most Texans have gotten power back, but water remains a challenge.

Like millions of Texans, Lupe Casteñeda’s long, cold week ended with a frustrating search for safe drinking water.

“I’ve gone to Sam’s, and they have no water. And I went to another that’s on the North Side, but no water,” she said.

Casteñeda lives on Fort Worth’s west side, where residents were still being cautioned on Friday afternoon to boil the tap water they use for drinking, cooking or washing produce. The water boil notice in north Fort Worth was lifted.

Millions of Texans remain under boil water notices, after a week of frigid weather and power outages wreaked havoc on water utility infrastructure.

Casteñeda has a six-month-old daughter. She needs water to mix with the baby’s formula.

A milk jug is held under a water spigot to be filled up by a man in green army fatigues.
Christopher Connelly
Thousands of milk jugs and two 5,500-gallon tanker trucks were donated by Vandervoort's Dairy in Fort Worth.

“I just want to make sure it’s safe before I give it to her, you know?” she said.

Her search for water ended in the parking lot of Birchman Baptist Church.

This morning, a tanker truck full of water arrived at the church. An assembly line of city employees, national guardsmen and volunteers from a host of nonprofits spent hours filling plastic milk jugs with water. A steady stream of cars and trucks filled with weary but thankful people.

For Richard Wallace, four days without power earlier in the week sent him to his brother’s house to ride out the blackout. Returning home, he found a new problem.

“The water’s off over there,” he said after picking up a couple gallons. “I got that to flush my commode. My wife left because she says she can’t stay there.”

Vandervoort’s Dairy filled up two tanker trucks with water for the city to use to help in the emergency response. The south side dairy also donated thousands of plastic jugs.

Nine people with masks and winter clothes on hold plastic milk jugs. A man in green army fatigues hands a jug to another man in a black jacket.
Christopher Connelly
Dozens of water distribution sites have popped up across Fort Worth as a large swath of the city remains under a boil water warning.

Mike Drivdahl with Fort Worth’s Office of Emergency Management said the blackouts and the winter storm made getting enough water to meet the needs has been a challenge.

Normally, the city can lean on giant bottling plants nearby to pitch in in an emergency, but they were shut down for much of the week.

“We knew that we had issues with the water systems when they started going down, and that’s when we started working on getting large amounts of bottled water,” he said. “But at that point, we were still in the middle of snow and record-setting temperatures, so just the logistics, just getting stuff moved around.”

Drivdahl said the city has worked out its supply problem, and has about 100 city employees and a battalion of volunteers, as well as national guardsmen, working to get water where it’s needed.

The city also borrowed tanker trucks from the Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base Fort Worth to distribute water, and it’s getting supplies from local breweries and bottling companies.

Even after boil water notices are lifted, people with burst pipes won’t have running water for a while. Drivdahl said he expects the city to distribute drinking water for at least another week.

Bret Jaspers contributed to this story.

Got a tip? Christopher Connelly is KERA's One Crisis Away Reporter, exploring life on the financial edge. Email Christopher at can follow Christopher on Twitter @hithisischris.

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