SAN ANGELO, TX — President Joe Biden is accused of turning his back on rural Texas including all of the counties in the Concho Valley. Texas Governor Greg Abbott issued a disaster declaration for all 254 counties because of the historic and devastating storm that started Valentine’s Day, Feb. 14. Friday, Feb. 19, was the first time temperatures rose above the freezing level.
The combination of the freezing temperatures and the failure of the Texas electric power grid disrupted commerce, caused destruction of water distribution systems, and other temperature-sensitive infrastructure.
President Joe Biden announced that not all counties are included in all of his emergency declaration. Of the 254 counties in Texas, only 77 counties were listed in the Biden administration’s FEMA declaration and eligible for all assistance under FEMA’s disaster recovery programs. All of the counties in and near the Permian Basin in west Texas aren’t the list.
“We will continue to pursue financial assistance at all levels,” Mayor Brenda Gunter said at a press conference Saturday, Feb. 20. State Rep. Drew Darby, who represents District 72 from San Angelo to Big Spring, wanted the full assistance.
“I strongly urge the Biden administration to quickly remedy this decision and allow deployment of resources to all west Texas counties impacted by the recent devastation. West Texas is a significant producer for our state, and home to critical oil and natural gas and agricultural operations. Our people are hurting and need equal access to federal funding to help us recover,” Darby said.
Being left out of the entire FEMA declaration denies specific federal assistance to homeowners, small businesses hurt by the weather, and to municipalities and county governments. This federal assistance includes grants for temporary housing and home repairs, low-cost loans to cover uninsured property losses, and other federal programs to help individuals and business owners recover from the effects of the disaster.
According to the Biden FEMA declaration, federal funding is available to state, local governments and certain private nonprofit organizations on a cost-sharing basis for emergency protective measures, including direct federal assistance in the 77 counties, mostly urban, in Texas.
Congressman August Pfluger represents 29 counties in Texas from Granbury to the Permian Basin. This afternoon, he clarified that all counties in his district except Hood where Granbury is were left out of FEMA’s individual assistance programs.
“Yesterday, I led a letter signed by 20 Texas Congressional Representatives to President Biden asking him to swiftly approve Governor Abbott’s Major Disaster Declaration for all 254 counties in Texas. President Biden approved Public Assistance for all 254 counties last night.
“Today, President Biden approved Individual Assistance for 77 counties in Texas. Individual assistance is given directly to residents who sustained losses due to this winter storm,” Pfluger said.
“Every Texan knows this natural disaster hit all 254 counties—including our west Texas communities. I am now advocating for Individual Assistance to be approved for all of the remaining counties in the 11th District, and am leading the effort to make sure all counties in Texas are covered with the relief they need,” Pfluger said in a prepared statement.
KBTX in Bryan/College Station sits in the Brazos Valley where some but not all counties were approved for the Individual Assistance portion of the disaster relief. They asked FEMA about it.
“The 77 counties in the Individual Assistance portion of the Major Disaster Declaration are a start. Additional designations may be made at a later date if requested by the state, and warranted by the results of further assessments. Texas homeowners and renters living outside the designated counties should file a claim with their insurance provider, document damages to their home from the storm, and keep receipts for all expenses related to repairs,” FEMA told KBTX.
State Senator Charles Perry urged citizens to submit a report through an online tool to help persuade FEMA officials to extend the individual assistance.
“The good news is that the White House approved Public Assistance for Emergency Protective Measures in all 254 counties. The bad news is that Individual Assistance was only approved for 77 counties,” he said.
Perry added, “There are about 1,400 water systems or 15 million people that were impacted by this storm. Local governments are working around the clock to get their water systems running normally again. It takes 24 hours for the labs to confirm water quality is back to normal when the water system is fixed.”
Here’s how you can help get your county on the list
John Austin Stokes, director of the Concho Valley Council of Governments, urged homeowners and business owners in the Concho Valley to tell the Texas Department of Emergency Management about the impact of the winter storm. He said this will help the State of Texas compile a data argument for President Biden as to why all of his disaster declaration should be extended to the counties around San Angelo. If you live in the Concho Valley counties of Tom Green, Irion, Crockett, Reagan, Sterling, Coke, Concho, McCulloch, Menard, Kimball, Sutton, and Scheicher, Stokes urges you to fill out his survey form.
Inside the city of San Angelo, with a population just over 100,000 people, the immediate crisis is the absence of drinkable water. Mayor Gunter said, “We just want the water purchased or donated to provide relief to our citizens.”
There are 27 semi truckloads of water inbound to San Angelo Saturday afternoon. Gunter said this is only 20 percent of the City of San Angelo’s requested amount. The City is also distributing non-potable water — up to 30 gallons per person — for flushing of toilets and any other use that does not include human consumption. Citizens must provide their own water pails to obtain it.
San Angelo’s water crisis was mitigated by a 2009 decision by the City of San Angelo to spend over $121 million to pipeline and treat ground water drawn from the Hickory Aquifer deep underground McCulloch County. The 60-mile pipeline has been pumping in about 10 million gallons per day but it is only a third of the current need. The city’s water needs are nearly 30 mgd currently. The balance is being physically drawn from the Concho River next to the power plant. The City of San Angelo Water Utilities Department has surface water rights in Lake Nasworthy and the Twin Buttes Reservoir upstream that are being delivered via the Concho. The City’s primary source of water, O.H. Ivie Reservoir, has been idle since October 2020 for pipeline maintenance.
Despite having the ability to pump a record-breaking amount of water from the treatment plant using backup water sources, the water system is having trouble pressurizing to all facets in the city. The Director of City of San Angelo Water Utilities Allison Strube said so far, not enough water has reached the primary water storage tanks along the 620 miles of water distribution pipes. The city water distribution system is divided almost in half in two parts: the lower and upper planes.
The upper plane of the water system serves the growing southwest portion of the city, from portions of College Hills, the western edge of the Santa Rita neighborhood, Bentwood, and Southland. Many of these residents have been without water for five days when the portions of the water distribution system froze due to Winter Storm Uri and the water system suffered multiple water main breaks, decreasing the pressure across the city.
The tanks began filling up Thursday night, Feb. 18, but overnight Friday and into Saturday, Feb 20, water demand began draining the storage tanks faster than the water system could replenish them. City officials are investigating why, with such high flow rates, the water tanks cannot be filled? One possibility is hidden leaks that should become more visible Saturday as the snow melts. It seemed the water officials were thinking there are some hidden major leaks.
While San Angelo’s water distribution system limps to life, the entire water system is under a Texas Commission on Environmental Quality boil water notice. The water isn’t considered safe to drink if your water facets do work.
San Angelo’s problems are not unique to the problems experienced in the 77 mostly urban counties President Biden singled out as eligible for additional billions in federal assistance. In Abilene in Taylor County, the water system basically failed the first day of the storm due to electricity blackouts. That city doesn’t expect its boil water notice to be lifted until Monday. The City of Midland was faced with 13 main water line breaks. None of these cities are covered by Biden’s FEMA disaster declaration for individual assistance.
Will the Biden administration hear the voices of rural Texas? Stokes said the best course of action right now is for every citizen to fill out the Texas Department of Emergency Management disaster relief form. With data, Stokes said, our public officials can make the argument for more assistance to FEMA and the Biden administration.
Are you in an area that qualified for federal assistance? FEMA has a website where you can check eligibility. San Angelos zip codes do not qualify as of right now.
Here are the 77 counties in Texas currently eligible for individual assistance from FEMA:
- Fort Bend
- Palo Pinto
- San Jacinto
- San Patricio