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Austin boil water notice remains in effect but conservation requirements lifted

Austin Water Director Greg Meszaros said it "became clearer" after investigating that the notice was a result of operational staff error.

AUSTIN, Texas — A city-wide precautionary boil water notice has been issued for all Austin Water customers, the utility provider announced late Saturday

Any water used from plumbing systems should be boiled before drinking or cooking with, it according to the City's boil guidelines.

Austin Water's Ullrich Water Treatment Plant was out of service due to "an internal treatment process issue that resulted in high turbidity within the plant," a release from the utility provider stated. As of Sunday, the Ullrich Water Treatment Plant was back online and fully operational.

Austin Water Director Greg Meszaros provided updates on the situation during press conferences on Saturday and Sunday nights. On Saturday, he said the issue arose when the Ullrich plant experienced a "treatment process upset" that resulted in a spike in the water's turbidity. 

Meszaros said water turbidity is a measure of the water's clarity, with higher turbidity meaning that the water appears murkier. 

He said the company has been working with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality throughout the weekend regarding the turbidity spike, which led to the decision to issue the boil notice Saturday night. Meszaros said Saturday that the spike was a "low-level" event with no water contamination reported. 

"We have no indication that there's a contamination," he said Saturday. "This was a very short-term event, internal process water, very low risk, but regulations are regulations and we have to do this boil water notice."

According to Meszaros, the "turbidity spike" went out to the public for nearly 30 minutes.

In Sunday's press conference, Meszaros said there are five steps to get through in order to rescind the notice: 

  1. Get Ullrich Water Treatment Plant back online
  2. Ullrich is operating at normal production levels
  3. Water sampling begins
  4. Water sampling results show no water quality issues
  5. TCEQ authorizes lifting the boil water notice

As of Sunday evening, Austin Water had completed the first two steps of the five, Meszaros said. During steps three through four, Austin Water will gather samples and submit them to the TCEQ so the agency can authorize rescinding the boil water notice. Meszaros said the target date to receive authorization from the TCEQ to rescind the boil water notice was by the end of day on Tuesday, Feb. 8.

Watch Sunday's full press conference here: 

Are you in Austin's boil water notice? 

Austin Water has an interactive map where you can plug in your address to see if you fall into the notice or not.

Check out the map here

Possible human error

Meszaros told KVUE Senior Reporter Tony Plohetski on Sunday morning that officials believe the boil water notice may have been the result of human error but cautioned that information is preliminary.

He said that the issue appears to "a staff operations issue" and "how we operate the plant." 

"We will go through a review of our data and interview people and do other steps to see what happened with the operations," he said. "I don't want to speculate on details until we go through that process."

The incident did not have to do with the recent winter storm that moved through the area earlier this week, and Meszaros said the timing between the storm and the incident was a coincidence. 

"This did not have to do with the winter storm. We were through that event and actually were feeling pretty celebratory that everything went well and then today we had this event," he said. "Nothing suggests that this is related to the winter storm."

The incident itself had to do with an internal process at the plant and not any issue with the river water, Meszaros clarified. Other systems at the plant are still functioning at this time, including the disinfection system, and the Ullrich plant was cleaned and ready to restart operations on Sunday. 

In Sunday evening's press conference, Meszaros said it had "become clearer" that the notice resulted from errors with the operating staff at the Ullrich plant. He said that an operational issue like this has never happened before and called the situation unacceptable.

Austin Water will hold water distribution events in the coming days, with two distribution sites open now, Meszaros said. One is open at the Glen Bell Service Center located at 3907 S. Industrial Drive and another at the North Service Center at 901 Koenig Lane. More distribution sites are expected to open Sunday. 

Questions from City Council

City of Austin Mayor Steve Adler said the issue "will be over in a couple of days" in a statement. 

"We all need to do our part when something like this happens, and we will. We can also be frustrated, as I am, that there's yet another situation to deal with," Mayor Steve Adler said in a release. "We can be thankful, too, that the situation was noticed quickly and steps taken, any public health risk is very, very small, and we're much better prepared right now with equipment and supplies as we open water distribution stations. It appears this will be over in a couple of days, and the city will keep everyone informed along the way. Please help your neighbors."

The boil water notice has also begun triggering demand for answers among Austin city councilmembers, who are seeking a meeting as early as this week for water utility officials to explain what happened. 

The notice was the city's third in five years. The first city-wide boil water notice ever occurred in 2018 following a flood event. The utility also issued a notice last year during the historic winter storm. 

RELATED: Councilmembers call for external audit of Austin Water following boil water notice

"I intend to hold the manager accountable for implementing any necessary changes as soon as possible and developing a communication process with the public and the council to provide people information they need when they need it," City Councilmember Kathie Tovo said.

Austin Water is maintaining water service to customers by increasing water production at Davis and Handcox Water Treatment Plants and by "carefully managing pumping" within the network of water pipelines. No power disruptions have occurred at drinking water plants, the provider said.

Conservation requirements lifted

Meszaros issued emergency water use restrictions starting at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday. As of Monday evening, conservations requirements have been lifted.

Customers were previously asked to cut down on indoor water use as much as possible and all outdoor water use was prohibited until further notice, according to the release. 

Meanwhile, commercial customers were required to reduce water use unless needed for health and safety. Manufacturing customers, specifically those that use an average of over 100,000 gallons per day, are asked to reduce water use as much as possible. 

As of Monday, all three water treatment plants are fully operational and are producing normal volumes of water. Austin Water also received approval from the state to begin the water sampling process, also known as Step 3.

The boil water notice and emergency water use restrictions are in effect for retail customers of Austin Water Wholesale Districts and utilities including: 

  • Night Hawk 
  • Travis County WCID 10 
  • Creedmoor-Maha WSC 
  • Morningside 
  • Rivercrest 
  • San Leanna 
  • Marsha WSC 
  • Wells Branch MUD 
  • Northtown MUD 
  • Manor 
  • Rollingwood 
  • Shady Hollow MUD 
  • Sunset Valley 
  • High Valley 
  • Mid-Tex Utilities 
  • North Austin MUD 1 

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