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

"You deserve better," Austin Mayor Pro Tem Alison Alter said on Monday.

AUSTIN, Texas — Austin Mayor Pro Tem Alison Alter and five other councilmembers are calling for an external audit of Austin Water after the utility issued its third boil water notice in five years on Saturday.

Alter made the announcement on Monday, telling Austin residents “you deserve better.”

“I’m calling for an external audit of Austin Water to address what happened this weekend and the pattern of water quality challenges in recent years,” Alter said on Twitter.

She said Councilmembers Mackenzie Kelly, Paige Ellis, Leslie Pool, Kathie Tovo and Vanessa Fuentes are cosponsoring the resolution.

On the City’s online message board, Alter said she had already told the city manager of the need for an external audit. She said the resolution calls for an audit “to examine our most recent incidents and identify appropriate protocol, operational, investment and other changes and actions."

The boil water notice has triggered demand for answers among Austin City Council members, who are seeking a meeting for water utility officials to explain what happened.

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.

On Sunday Councilmember Kathie Tovo told KVUE, "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.”

Mayor Steve Adler joined KVUE on Monday morning to discuss the issue.

“We have to do a better job,” Adler said. “In our city, we can't have our water system be going down like this.”

Austin Water Director Greg Meszaros said the notice was likely a result of operational staff error.

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.

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