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Austin Water: Service restoration will be a 'multi-day process'

(Austonia staff)

Restoring water to tens of thousands of customers currently experiencing outages and lifting the boil water notice will be "a multi-day process," Austin Water Director Greg Meszaros said during a press conference Thursday afternoon.

For those residents who lack both water and power to boil it, local officials have little immediate support to offer.

"Water has been purchased and is on the way," Homeland Security and Emergency Management Director Juan Ortiz said. "As soon as we are able, it will be distributed into the community." However, because of the statewide nature of the crisis, the city had to purchase water from out of state, and it will take time for it to be delivered. In the meantime, Meszaros recommended residents without water or power reach out to friends and neighbors who may have water to share.

After Austin Water's largest water plant temporarily lost power Wednesday and a surge in demand led to low water pressure system-wide, the local utility issued a boil water notice Wednesday evening that remains in effect. Freezing temperatures caused pipes to burst and water mains to break, which further exacerbated high demand, along with faucet dripping. The leaks also caused Austin Water's reservoirs, which typically hold around 100 million gallons of water, to drain out. "At the low point, they were all nearly empty," Meszaros said.

Similar to the power restoration process, Meszaros said the water restoration process will take time as the utility works to identify and repair leaks. If the restoration process is rushed and leaks remain unattended to, restoring the water system could result in the same situation the city is in now: low pressure and emptied reservoirs.

The reason there is a boil water notice in effect is because of the low pressure, which introduces the possibility of contamination. "Even though the risk is low and we don't know of any particular source of contamination, it's very important that customers boil their water before using it," Meszaros said.

Once Austin Energy is able to restore pressure, the utility will have to go through a sampling and testing process as required by state law before it is able to lift the boil water notice. Texas Commission of Environmental Quality Executive Director Toby Baker said there are only 135 labs in the state that can do the necessary sampling, which means notices in Austin and elsewhere could linger, according to the Texas Tribune; approximately 12 million Texans across around 590 public water systems were experiencing service disruptions as of Wednesday afternoon.

Although Austin Energy has restored power to tens of thousands of customers since Wednesday, just over 8% percent—or 41,597—are still impacted. The local utility is working to get those customers back on the grid, prioritizing those areas that have gone without power the longest, but the process takes time to avoid system overloads. "I wish getting everyone back online was as easy as flipping a switch or pushing a button, but it's not," General Manager Jackie Sargent said.

City officials also provided additional updates and recommendations regarding emergency services, road safety and other public services:

  • Austin Fire Department Assistant Chief Brandon Wade asked residents not to burn items other than firewood and approved logs in places other than fireplaces because of the risks of carbon monoxide poisoning and fires. Residents who see smoke or fire should immediately call 911 because of delayed response times due to the road conditions.
  • Austin residents continue to report broken pipes. Austin Water is no longer recommending faucet dripping in an effort to lower demand and restore the system, and the fire department cannot respond to all calls immediately due to high demand. So residents are encouraged to locate their water shutoff in case they need to use it.
  • Public Works Director Richard Mendoza said two 70-person crews are working in 12-hour shifts to clear roads. So far, about 60%—or 118 lane miles—have been cleared in one lane each direction, and the department expects to address the remainder by Friday afternoon.
  • Curbside trash and recycling will resume on Friday, weather permitting, but crews may take longer due to the road conditions.


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