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'I am profoundly sorry' | Austin Water briefs Austin City Council on boil water notice at special Feb. 15 meeting

The City's utility department said a full review has begun to determine the events leading up to the operational error at the Ullrich Treatment Plant.

AUSTIN, Texas — City leaders discussed the recent citywide boil water notice at a specially called Austin City Council meeting.

The meeting took place on Tuesday, Feb. 15, allowing council members and city staff time to publicly address how the notice occurred and plans to prevent similar events in the future.

You can watch the meeting on KVUE's YouTube channel:

"Austinites deserve a safe, reliable and resilient water system in which they can have full confidence," said Council Member Paige Ellis. "After last year’s winter storm, the latest freeze, and two years of an ongoing pandemic, this latest boil water notice really hit a nerve for folks in Austin. My goal for this meeting is to begin to rebuild trust between our city’s core services and the community."

The notice took place from Saturday night through Tuesday night. Austin Water officials have said the cause of a system failure was likely due to employee error.

"We have a world-famous quality of life here in Austin, but that takes a huge hit if we can’t guarantee our residents they’ll have uninterrupted access to clean drinking water," said Council Member Natasha Harper-Madison. "Oversight and accountability are two of the great benefits of having publicly-owned utilities and I’m eager to work with my colleagues and with staff to resolve these issues and restore faith in Austin Water."

Council Members Harper-Madison and Paige Ellis called for the meeting on Sunday. Mayor Pro Tem Alison Alter also called for an external audit of Austin Water. 

"I am committed to investigating what led to both the recent boil notice and the pattern of systemic issues with Austin Water," said Alter. "Determining the cause of these issues and implementing recommended changes and actions from an independent third party auditor is key to preventing something like this from happening again and holding Austin Water accountable."

Meanwhile, Council Member Vanessa Fuentes has announced intention to hold hearings at the Austin Water Oversight Committee, which she chairs.

"Our community is frustrated and in disbelief about the recent boil water notice, and so am I," said Fuentes. "They deserve answers and accountability. And, most importantly, they deserve action. This means follow through on what we learn in the upcoming audit, so our city never has to experience this again. Thanks to my colleagues for their swift action to set the stage for how we move forward."

Austin Water briefed the Austin City Council following the memo released Friday answering questions about the recent boil water notice. The City's utility department said a full review has begun to determine the events leading up to the operational error at the Ullrich Treatment Plant. Austin Water said corrective actions needed to prevent this from occurring again will be identified in the review.

RELATED: Austin Water director resigns, 3 employees placed on leave following days-long boil water notice

“This event was unacceptable, and we are committed and working to make certain that it will not happen again," said Greg Meszaros, former director of Austin Water. “We are conducting a thorough investigation to gather all the facts and make sound decisions about the protocols and technology that will prevent this kind of error in the future.”

Meszaros apologized during the special called meeting about the operational errors leading to the boil water notice. 

"I am just profoundly sorry that we had this event," Meszaros said. "I know it was painful and difficult coming on top of all the other events that not only we have had ... but the pandemic and everything else that the community has been struggling with. I am sorry that the community suffered."

Meszaros said there was no evidence of what he would describe as "gross negligence" on the account of Austin Water employees. He further clarified that no one was "sleeping on duty," no one "left the plant," or employees weren't "fabricating data." Meszaros reaffirmed his stance that the boil water notice was not enacted because of winter storm-related issues, despite rumored reports on radio calls by persons claiming to be Austin Water employees. 

RELATED: Austin Water releases actual cause of February boil water notice

Some of the initial actions underway are: 

  • Meetings have been conducted with plant staff at each water treatment plant (Ullrich, Davis and Handcox)
  • Examining process controls protocols
  • Examining training protocols
  • Reviewing alarm, testing and notification procedures for improvements

Austin Water said that, over the next 30 days, it will be implementing enhanced procedures that will aid in communications between shift changes, as well as the escalation of communications to plant superintendents, management and executive staff when issues arise. The utility also said it will be providing supervision with remote software access to plant monitoring.

The council will also be meeting on Feb. 17 at 10 a.m. for its regular meeting, at which it will consider the audit resolution. The oversight committee meeting is scheduled for Feb. 23 at 1:30 p.m.

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