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Energy & Environment

Citywide boil-water notice issued for Austin Water customers

Brandon Gonzalez gets his containers filled with drinking water at the distribution site on Koenig Lane Sunday.
Gabriel C. Pérez
/
KUT
Brandon Gonzalez gets his containers filled with drinking water at the distribution site on Koenig Lane Sunday.

A citywide boil-water notice is in effect due to problems at Austin Water's largest treatment plant. Mayor Steve Adler said it "appears this will be over in a couple of days."

The city said in a statement around 7:30 p.m. Saturday that the Ullrich Water Treatment Plant was out of service and customers should lower their indoor water use. Outdoor water use is prohibited, the city said. To make up for one of its plants being offline Saturday, Austin Water is increasing production at its two other treatment plants.

The Ullrich plant is back online as of Sunday morning, Austin Water says, the first step toward lifting the citywide notice.

What do I need to do during the notice?

City officials say residents should boil tap water vigorously for at least two minutes before using it for drinking or cooking (the minute starts when the water begins to bubble). The city says people should boil water used for brushing teeth, making ice, washing raw foods and the preparation of drinks and water for pets. Residents should throw away ice that was made during the boil-water notice.

Tap water can be used for bathing and showering, officials say, but be careful not to swallow any water. "Use caution when bathing babies and young children," the city says. "Consider giving them a sponge bath to reduce the chance of them swallowing water."

Commercial water customers are required to reduce their usage "unless needed for health and safety," officials said. "Manufacturing customers, specifically those that use an average of over 100,000 gallons per day, are asked to reduce water use as much as possible," the city said. Commercial use of water for irrigation — including athletic fields — and car washing is prohibited.

Austin ISD spokesperson Jason Stanford said schools will open normally on Monday. School officials will encourage families to send water bottles with students, and the district will provide bottled water as well.

What's causing the boil-water notice to be issued?

In a Saturday evening news conference, Austin Water Director Greg Meszaros says the problem at the treatment plant is not related to this week's winter storm. Last February, during a historic winter storm, most of the city had low water pressure or no water at all after the Ullrich plant lost electricity.

On Saturday, crews observed a "turbidity spike" at the plant and informed the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. Turbidity, Meszaros says, is a measurement of the clarity of water — a "highly regulated part of the water industry."

Austin Water's director said the problem came from an internal process at the treatment plant and was not caused by anything in the water the city uses from the Colorado River.

Meszaros says there is no indication there has been a contamination of the city's water supply. “We feel this is a low-risk event, but nonetheless it is a mandatory boil-water notice for the city that we’re working through today," he said. Meszaros said he expects the boil-water notice to last "probably about the next two days."

"We all need to do our part when something like this happens, and we will," Mayor Adler said in a statement. "We can also be frustrated, as I am, that there's yet another situation to deal with. We can be thankful, too, that the situation was noticed quickly and steps taken, any public health risk is very, very small."

Where can I find water?

The city has four water distribution sites operating Sunday. Customers must bring empty water containers to the Glen Bell Service Center and the North Service Center locations.

  • Travis County Expo Center, 7311 Decker Lane — 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
  • Austin Water Glen Bell Service Center, 3907 S. Industrial Drive — Open 24 hours
  • Austin Water North Service Center, 901 W. Koenig Lane — Open 24 Hours
  • Kelly Reeves Athletic Complex, 10211 W. Parmer Lane — Noon to 5 p.m.

A new water distribution site has opened at Southeast Metropolitan Park, 4511 State Hwy 71 in Del Valle, according to Austin City Council Member Vanessa Fuentes. The new location will operate until 8 p.m. Sunday and then reopen at noon Monday.

"Residents who have the ability and means are asked to purchase their own water so that limited supplies at distribution sites can go to those who need it most," the city said. More distribution sites are planned as additional water becomes available.

Containers are filled with drinking water from an Austin Water truck at the Koenig Lane distribution center on Sunday.
Gabriel C. Pérez
/
KUT
Containers are filled with drinking water from an Austin Water truck at the Koenig Lane distribution center on Sunday.

Lisa Lennon was one of the few people in line at the Koenig Lane distribution location Sunday morning. "I was really pissed off, irritated, because we should have infrastructure in place that would provide a safety net for these kinds of situations," she told KUT's Claire McInerny.

Lennon said the winter storm this week made her nervous that her water would go out like it did last year. "I was without power and water for five days. So it makes you a little jittery, sketchy, all of that," she said.

Am I included in the boil-water notice?

Visit this interactive map to see if your address is included in the notice area.

The notice and water use restrictions are in effect for Austin Water customers and retail customers of Austin Water Wholesale Districts and Utilities, including:

  • Night Hawk
  • Travis County WCID 10
  • Windermere
  • Creedmoor-Maha WSC
  • Morningside
  • Rivercrest
  • San Leanna
  • Marsha WSC
  • Wells Branch MUD
  • Northtown MUD
  • Manor
  • Rollingwood
  • Sunset Valley
  • High Valley
  • Mid-Tex Utilities
  • North Austin MUD 1

When will the boil-water notice end?

Austin Water said it will need to accomplish five steps before ending the boil-water notice. The water utility said it had already done the first: getting the Ullrich Water Treatment plant back online.

Next, crews will need to get the treatment plant operating at normal production levels. Once that's done, water sampling will begin. Then, the sampling will need to show no water quality issues.

After those steps are finished, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality will decide whether to authorize lifting the boil-water notice.

Austin's mayor said the notice would last a "couple days" in a statement on Saturday. Austin Water's director estimated two days as well. In a tweet Sunday morning, Austin Water said it hopes to lift the boil-water notice in "the next few days."

Sunday afternoon, Council Member Fuentes said Austin Water was aiming to lift the notice by the end of the day Tuesday.

Watch the Saturday evening news conference with Austin Water's director below:

With reporting from Claire McInerny.

This story has been updated.