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A Summer of Record Heat Deals Costly Damage to Texas Water Systems

The hottest summer on record for a lot of Texas cities has brought tens of millions of dollars in damage to municipal plumbing and the loss of giant volumes of water during a severe drought. 

Authorities across the state are struggling to maintain up with widespread leakage at the same time as they plead for water conservation and have restricted outdoor water use. The impact on Texas’ water systems highlights each the vulnerability of basic infrastructure to a warming climate and the high costs of adaptation.

“The intense heat and drop in annual rainfall have dried up the soil, causing a shift in water lines,” said Erin Jones, a spokesperson for the town of Houston, which logged its hottest summer on record this yr. “When the pipes shift, the pipe joints can break, causing water leaks.”

She said the municipal government in Houston was taking 500 calls per week for water leaks, up from 300 around this time in 2022, when drought conditions were less severe. The city, which budgets almost $20 million annually for water line repairs, has authorized an extra $33 million in spending this yr to herald contractors to assist municipal employees with repairs, Jones said.

In addition to the dry, shifting soil, the leaks result from the brittleness of aging pipes and a high demand on the town’s water infrastructure despite the conservation appeals and edicts. “The demand on the system continues to extend as a consequence of customers’ using more water and increased water leaks,” Jones said.

Leaking pipes cost Texas billions of gallons of water and lots of of tens of millions of dollars annually. Texas water utilities reported 30.6 billion gallons lost to breaks and leaks in 2021, essentially the most recent yr for which data is out there. The Texas Water Development Board, a state water authority, estimated an extra 101.6 billion gallons of unreported loss that yr.

Those losses collectively accounted for 12 percent of total reported water use and value the state an estimated $266 million (which considers the production cost of the water lost, not the repairs to busted pipes) in 2021. That yr, Texas enjoyed below-average summer temperatures and a near-total absence of drought conditions. The figures for this yr, which can not be published until 2024, are prone to show far higher loss rates and attendant costs. 

This yr, record-breaking temperatures hit Texas in late June and lingered through early September—a part of a global heat wave that also set records from China to Morocco to Bolivia and made this summer the world’s hottest since not less than 1940. 

The US Drought Monitor currently shows greater than half of Texas experiencing “severe drought,” and nearly one-third “extreme drought.” The groundwater in aquifers is declining, and a few reservoirs are nearing alarmingly low levels. 

For the state as a complete, this summer was the second-hottest on record, rating behind 2011 and ahead of 2022, in line with John Nielsen-Gammon, director of the Southern Regional Climate Center at Texas A&M University. (For meteorologists, summer runs from June through August.) 

For several cities along with Houston, it was the most well liked. Among them was San Antonio, where water primary breaks averaged about 470 per 30 days from January to June after which jumped to 725 in July and 1,076 in August as extreme heat bore down. 

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