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An ice storm hit the Austin area the week of Jan. 30. Hundreds of thousands of residents and businesses lost power as ice-covered trees toppled power lines across the city.

Austin Water asks for conservation – but says don't expect (another) boil-water notice

A closeup photo of ice on a leaf
Patricia Lim
Austin Water crews have been working to secure power at three pump stations after this week's ice storm.

Don't fill up your bathtub — yet.

Austin Water says people shouldn't expect a boil-water notice as the city lurches out of this week's freeze — though the utility is asking customers to conserve water to keep that possibility off the table.

At a news conference Friday, Austin Water Director Shay Ralls Roalson said utility crews have been working to secure power at three pump stations, which maintain the overall system's pressure levels. Sixteen lift stations, which help move wastewater through the system, had power issues, as well.

Roalson on Thursday called on customers to conserve water to give the utility some breathing room to store water.

"The less water you use, the less the tanks draw down," she said. "That just gives us more time when we have a power outage to restore a pump station operation and keep our storage levels healthy in the system."

Austin Energy sought to dispel rumors swirling on social media that boil-water notices could be on the horizon. Some of these predictions were spread on Twitter by a longtime political journalist and a parody account for a much-maligned, occasional parking lot of a state highway. (Twitter's a fun place that way.)

Austinites are justified to worry about a boil-water notice. Three times in five years, Austin Water has asked the city to boil its water en-masse. But officials from the utility reiterated it's not likely this week, despite problems maintaining power at pump stations in South Austin.

"We do not anticipate the need to issue any kind of citywide ... boil-water notice," Roalson said at a news conference Thursday.

Still, there have been pockets of Austin that have needed to boil water. The utility issued a boil-water notice Thursday for Travis County water district 10 and 18. Travis County Judge Andy Brown said Friday his office was working to get water to those folks in western parts of the county.

"Our county staff has a stockpile of water and we are ... giving them ... 20 pallets of water so they have drinking water today," he said.

Roalson said nearly 40 homes in the Glenlake and Mount Larson neighborhoods needed to boil water, and that the utility has delivered water to them. The utility is working to restore service, she said.

Austin Water's overall system needs to maintain constant pressure to be functional. In the last five years, the system pressure faltered for one reason or another, leading to boil-water notices system-wide.

But Roalson said the pressure-related issues faced by the utility aren't as severe as they were during the blackouts in February 2021, when a loss of power at a water treatment plant triggered a boil-water notice, or last year, when human error forced the same water treatment plant offline. That plant, the Ullrich Water Treatment Plant, was also the cause of 2018's boil-water notice after it got swamped by floodwaters.

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Andrew Weber is a general assignment reporter for KUT, focusing on criminal justice, policing, courts and homelessness in Austin and Travis County. Got a tip? You can email him at Follow him on Twitter @England_Weber.
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