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'We're doing everything we can' | Austin Water director speaks on smelly water issue

Unusual odors have been reported in Austin tap water since Thursday. Austin Water said it is still working to flush out the system and the smell may be due to zebra mussels.

AUSTIN, Texas — Austin Water Director Greg Meszaros held a press conference on Monday to provide updates to the public about the growing zebra mussels problem making tap water smell "fishy."

"Right now we are focusing on flushing the problem," said Meszaros. "We're doing everything we can to resolve these issues and give our customers the high quality of water they are used to."

According to Meszaros, the Austin Water plants are no longer producing water that smells, but it takes several days for the water to work through the system.

Austin Water has been calling customers back to see if they are experiencing a better quality of water, and if not, they are going back and flushing through their system. 

When asked how long they will be working on this issue Meszaros said, "As long as it takes to get every customer high-quality water."

Since it takes awhile for the smelly water to work its way through the system, it is hard for Meszaros to predict where the water will hang up -- which is why they are depending on customers to call them to let them know if their water still smells. 

Call 311 if you are experiencing smelly water.

The phenomenon is concentrated mostly south of the river.

"We are trying to isolate the problem," Meszaros said. 

The smelly water is behaving like a "bubble" of water that is making its way through the system by circulating through the hydraulics, according to Meszaros.

Meszaros said there is no test for smelly water since it is just an aesthetic quality. Instead, it is more of a panel tasting and smelling the water. 

Zebra mussels are an invasive species. Three years ago there was no sign of them, and now there are millions. They are now infesting the water system and raw water pipeline, which is proving hard to clean, but Austin Water is inventing new ways to clean their system, using chemicals, mechanical cleaning and marine diving contracts to manually clean out the zebra mussels. 

Since zebra mussels don't like copper ions, Austin Water is now building them to keep the mussels out of the raw water system, though they are hoping to change to a lower cost solution soon.

"We have over four thousand miles of pipe. Circle C is the last area to experience this water, and it also depends how fast the water moves through our system," added Meszaros. "In summer it would move faster, but in the winter, like now, it’s moving slowly."

Meszaros emphasized after 1,000 calls there have been no reports of nausea of any sickness from the smelly water. 

"Even though the water is safe to drink, we want it odor free," stated Meszaros. "I don’t want to make a prediction, we haven’t been good at predictions, but it is getting better every day since we are flashing the system."

We also reached out to Austin City Manager, Spencer Cronk: “I’ve been receiving regular updates from the Austin Water staff. I certainly understand everyone’s frustration and apologize for the inconvenience. I’m confident our staff are doing everything they can to resolve this situation as quickly as possible.”


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