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Austin Water making progress on improvements following 2021 boil water notice

Officials said the utility has implemented 69% of the recommended changes from an external audit.

AUSTIN, Texas — On Wednesday, the Austin City Council got an update on what Austin Water is doing to prevent another boil water notice.

In February of last year, everyone in Austin had to boil their water before using it because of an issue at a treatment facility. That triggered an audit that laid out recommendations for improvements within Austin Water.

Last year, the city council approved an external review of the agency. A team from the UT Center for Water and the Environment published their findings in January.

That report focused on issues at one plant – the Ullrich Water Treatment Plant – and most of the problems it uncovered are tied to a familiar issue we've heard at a lot of employers: not enough staff and not enough training.

The Ullrich treatment plant was at the center of four of the five big water issues Austin has dealt with since 2018. The causes have ranged from being weather-related to being linked to human error.

On Wednesday, officials with Austin Water detailed improvements they've already made and things they hope to change but haven't done yet.

They said, overall, 69% of the 53 recommendations made to improve staffing and emergency management have been implemented or are underway.

“We appreciate the opportunity this review provided for us to rebuild community trust,” Austin Water Director Shay Ralls Roalson said. “We are more robust and resilient than we have ever been, but we are also facing threats that we’ve never seen in our history. Implementing the recommendations from this report will make Austin Water stronger and better positioned to face climate change and extreme weather events.”

Austin Water said all recommendations will be implemented by the end of the year, through specific actions, process improvements or programmed capital projects.

According to the utility, key findings from the assessment of Austin Water include:

  • “Treatment processes performed by Austin Water are appropriate.
  • The Ullrich Water Treatment Plant infrastructure is adequately designed with sufficient capacity.
  • Austin Water has taken steps to mitigate water quality risks and improve operational resiliency at its water treatment plants.
  • Austin Water’s power resiliency and Emergency Preparedness Plan sufficiently address hardening of electrical transmission and distribution, additional auxiliary power generation, adequate water storage and implementation of emergency water demand rules.
  • Austin Water’s emergency management structures are well thought out and suitably structured; the Incident Management Team and Department Operations Center align with FEMA standards.”

“Austin Water is committed to learning, continuous improvement and innovating to address modern challenges," Roalson said. "We are excited to bring these recommendations to fruition to serve our community."

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