Austin Water Lifts Boil-Water Notice

Oct 28, 2018

Austin Water officials have lifted a boil-water notice for all its customers that’s been in place since Monday. They say the water is now safe to drink straight from the tap.

It was the first time a citywide boil-water notice had been issued in the history of the city’s water utility.

Emergency water restrictions remain in place at least through tomorrow. Those restrictions mean Austin residents cannot:

  • Use water for irrigation or testing of irrigation equipment
  • Wash vehicles, including at commercial car wash facilities
  • Wash pavement or other surfaces
  • Add water to a pool or spa
  • Conduct foundation watering, or
  • Operate an ornamental fountain or pond, other than aeration necessary to support aquatic life 

Floodwaters that rushed down the Llano River into the Highland Lakes brought massive amounts of silt and dirt into Austin’s drinking water supply in Lake Travis. The dirty water became too difficult for the city’s water treatment plants to clean adequately. The city issued the boil-water notice early Monday, in anticipation Austin's water would fail state water-quality standards. When that happened on Tuesday, it triggered a mandatory boil-water order.

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A few days later, the city began distributing drinking water at locations around the city to people who had difficulty boiling their own water. As of Saturday morning, the city had handed out 625,608 gallons of water at those sites.

Some Austin City Council members also plan to ask for a full accounting of how and when the decision to issue the boil-water notice was made and communicated to the public — as well as a report on Austin Water’s treatment facilities.

On Thursday, Mayor Steve Adler signed a declaration of disaster for the city, making Austin eligible to be reimbursed for expenses related to the flooding and resulting water problems.

The Austin Fire Department's ban on recreational use of Lake Austin, Lady Bird Lake, the Colorado River downstream of Longhorn Dam and all creeks in the city continues until Monday, Oct. 29 at noon. Lake Travis, along with Inks Lake, Lake LBJ and Lake Marble Falls, are all closed until at least Tuesday, per the Lower Colorado River Authority. Floodgates are still open at Mansfield and Tom Miller Dams.

Here are answers to some frequently asked question from Austin Water:

How do I know the water is safe?
Austin Water has worked closely with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) and has followed federal and state laws for rescinding a Boil Water Notice. Microbiological testing has been negative and water disinfection levels are within state-required standards. This also includes meeting adequate water pressure requirements in the distribution system.
 
Do I need to flush the pipes in my home?
No, it is not necessary or required to flush the pipes in your home. Water has continued to circulate in the distribution system during the Boil Water Notice. Water used for laundry, showering, or boiling for consumption has created enough flushing effect for most homes. There should be no need to flush water from hot water heaters, irrigation systems, showers, clothes washing machines or outdoor faucets.
If you choose to flush water from your pipes, please limit the amount of water you use. We recommend following Centers for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines that suggest flushing for two minutes.
 
What steps do I need to take for my refrigerator water dispenser and ice maker?
We recommend drawing and discarding at least one quart of water from your refrigerator water dispenser before drinking. Automatic ice makers should be emptied of any ice created during the boil water order; allow the machine to make new ice and discard any ice produced during the next 24 hours.
 
What are the procedures for medical, dental, and food service establishments?
Medical, dental and food service establishments should contact Austin Public Health at 512-972-5000 or visit http://www.austintexas.gov/department/health for specific guidance.
 
Why did this happen?
This has been an unprecedented event in Austin Water’s more than 100 years of delivering water to Austin residents. Historic flooding created water that showed over 100 times the level of silt and solids typically than found in our source water. This dramatically changed the way our treatment plants needed to operate to produce high quality water and decreased the amount of water the plants were able to filter. This required us to slow our water treatment process.
 
Why are you still asking customers to limit water use?
Operations are not quite back to normal. While water production has recovered significantly, water treatment plants are not producing as much water as they can under typical conditions. While we are working to restore the full capacity, keeping water use down will help ensure the system can meet customer demands.
 
Is the Boil Water Notice lifted for communities that receive water from Austin Water, known as wholesale customers?
The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality has allowed the following Austin Water wholesale customers to lift their boil water notices: City of Rollingwood, City of Sunset Valley, Creedmoor Maha WSC, High Valley WSC, Marsha WSC, Mid-Tex Utility, Morningside Subdivision, Nighthawk WSC, Northtown MUD, North Austin MUD, Rivercrest Water System, Travis County WCID #10, Wells Branch MUD, Windermere Utility.
 
Are mandatory emergency water-use restrictions still in place?
Yes, but those restrictions will change to lessen the impact on affected businesses and their employees. Current restrictions remaining in place include:

  • No outdoor irrigation 
  • No adding water to pools or spas 
  • No operation of ornamental fountains 
  • No at-home pressure washing, vehicle or surface washing 

As of Monday, October 29, 2018 at 10:00 a.m., it will be allowable to:

  • Wash vehicles at a commercial car wash compliant with City Code 6-4-10 (B) 
  • Operate irrigation systems for the purpose of testing or repair by a licensed irrigation professional, and
  • Conduct pressure washing using commercial equipment in compliance with City Code 6-4-11 (B)      

Will our bills be prorated since we couldn’t use our water? 
Throughout the boil water notice period, Austin Water has continued to provide water to its service area that has been safe to use for basic needs and for consumption after boiling. You will only be billed for the water you used.