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Central Texas experienced historic winter weather the week of Feb. 14, with a stretch of days below freezing. Sleet followed snow followed freezing rain, leading to a breakdown of the electric grid and widespread power outages. Water reservoirs were depleted and frozen pipes burst, leaving some without service for days.

Austin Water Issues Citywide Boil-Water Notice, Urges Residents To Conserve Water

A frozen creek in the Hyde Park neighborhood during the February 2021 winter storm.
Julia Reihs
A frozen creek in the Hyde Park neighborhood.

Lee esta historia en español.

Austin Water said it has issued a citywide boil-water notice because of power loss at the Ullrich Water Treatment Plant, its largest water-treatment facility, and a drop in water pressure.

In a statement Wednesday night, it said it was working with Austin Energy to bring the the plant back online.

Residents should boil water used to cook, drink, wash their hands and face, brush their teeth and make ice until further notice.

“To ensure destruction of all harmful bacteria and other microbes, water for drinking, cooking, and ice making should be boiled and cooled prior to use for drinking water or human consumption purposes,” the notice reads. “The water should be brought to a vigorous rolling boil and then boiled for two minutes.”

Water use in Austin has far exceeded typical demand because of the winter storm, the utility said earlier Wednesday. Homes and businesses have had pipes burst, the system has experienced water main breaks, and many customers are dripping faucets and storing extra water, which is all causing demand to skyrocket.

"All of that’s combined to significantly increase demand above our ability to produce water," Austin Water Director Greg Meszaros said at a news conference Wednesday afternoon. "For example, in the last roughly 24 hours, we’ve seen peak pumping and demand be two and a half times greater than our ability to produce water. That’s rapidly been draining down our system and our reservoirs."

Water pressure and storage have dropped significantly as a result. Some customers now have very low water pressure or no water at all.

The situation could get worse — impacting fire protection or leading to a widespread lack of service. To prevent this, Austin Water is telling customers to conserve by doing the following:

  • Limit water use to essential needs;
  • Now that temperatures are rising, turn off dripping faucets indoors and outdoors;
  • Delay the use of appliances such as washing machines and dishwashers;
  • Report water main breaks to Austin Water at 512-972-1000;
  • If pipes at your home or business have burst, stop water waste by turning off your water at the property-owners' cut-off valve. If you are unable to find the valve or if it won’t work, call Austin Water at 512-972-1000 for help.

Meszaros emphasized the need to stop dripping faucets as those droplets quickly add up. He said dripping water out of three or four faucets in one household can easily be a gallon a minute.

"Over the course of 24 hours for one home, that's over 1,400 gallons, and we have hundreds of thousands of homes doing that," he said. "That's 140 million gallons of water a day to just faucet dripping, and that's well more than double the kind of water we'd use on a normal winter day."

Marisa Charpentier is KUT's assistant digital editor. Got a tip? Email her at Follow her on Twitter @marisacharp.
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