Updated 3:15 p.m. February 21
The city of Houston has lifted the boil-water notice. Houstonians can now use tap water for all use, including drinking, ice making, and cooking.
Before you start cooking, however, make sure to flush out your systems by "running cold-water faucets for at least one minute, cleaning automatic ice makers by making and discarding several batches of ice, and running water softeners through a regeneration cycle," according to Alert Houston.
The boil-water notice has been in place since February 17, when water pressure across the city fell beneath the minimum threshold because of last week's devastating winter storm. As the week wore on, and some folks began to get their water back, city officials had estimated that it wouldn't be until Monday, February 22, until the notice could be lifted. But today the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) confirmed that Houston's water met all the requirements and that the water is now safe to consume.
Updated 11:45 a.m. February 18
The city of Houston is beginning to see water pressure come back, with it reaching the 20 PSI required by TCEQ on Thursday morning, but Mayor Sylvester Turner said that he expects the boil water notice to remain in place for the next few days, most likely through Monday. When a boil water notice is in place, this means you must not drink any water from the tap without boiling it for at least two minutes at a temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit. If you still don't have power, then just stick to bottled water until the power comes back on.
In better news, despite what you'd assume, you can actually use the water to take a shower. The trick is just to be very careful about how you pull that off. The water may be used by healthy people for showering, bathing, shaving, and washing if care is taken not to swallow water and avoid shaving nicks, according to a city release. To minimize the chance of infections, people with open wounds, cuts, blisters, or recent surgical wounds and people who are immunocompromised or suffer from chronic illness should use boiled water (then cooled) or water from an alternate source. Children and disabled individuals should be supervised to ensure water is not ingested. Sponge bathing is advisable, and bathing time should be minimized to further reduce the potential for ingestion.
Published 10 a.m. February 17
We've known it was coming since water pressure first started to dip on Tuesday, but on Wednesday morning Houston Public Works officially issued a boil water notice for the city.
The water pressure dropped below the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality’s required minimum of 20 PSI during the arctic winter weather event starting at noon Tuesday, according to the release. Once the water pressure dips down that low, the chance of bacteria and other pathogens moving through the system increases substantially, and TCEQ regulations require that boil water orders be issued.
If you still have water—and many in the area have either low pressure or no water at all, according to reports—don't use it for anything other than flushing the toilet without boiling it first, letting it reach 160 degrees Fahrenheit, the temperature required to kill off any pathogens. Those who are without power and don't have the ability to boil water, should only use bottled water until the system is back online, according to the release.
The public is advised to minimize water usage for health and safety and discontinue use of sprinklers, washing machines, and other non-essential activities that require water usage. City officials expect water pressure to improve over the course of the day and to have stabilized pressures back into the operational range before the end of Thursday, according to the release.
Pro-tip: If you still have power and need some toilet flushing water, melting snow on the stove will do the trick.