An inside look at the decisions behind Austin’s boil water notice


AUSTIN (KXAN) — For a week, Austinites had to boil their water or find another clean source after historic flooding increased water levels and churned up mud and debris that put a strain on the water treatment plants. Now that the boil water notice has been lifted, the city is beginning to evaluate what happened and how it can improve for next time.

City Manager Spencer Cronk told KXAN Monday the city did not see any illnesses stemming from the water and there were no positive tests for bacteria in that time. 

The timeline for the boil water notice decision

All week, city officials had been tracking the historic floods that began in the Llano area and moved downstream to the Colorado River and into the Austin area. Numerous areas near the river flooded, and the Lower Colorado River Authority opened floodgates at dams along the rivers to manage the increased water.

Starting last Sunday, Austin officials realized the city wouldn’t be able to keep up with water demand, as the muck in the water slowed down the treatment process.

“That Sunday, we knew we were going to issue a precautionary notice to our residents to make sure they were doing everything that they could,” Cronk said. “We did not have to do that.”

Technically, the water quality wasn’t at a level that required a mandatory boil water notice until Tuesday. Cronk said the city wanted to keep everyone safe, even if there was only a slight risk of people getting sick at that point.

“Everything we did on Sunday and Monday was all in the best interests of our residents,” Cronk said. He added that the Formula One races that Sunday at Circuit of The Americas did not influence the city’s timing or decision about the boil water notice.

Next steps

The city is working on an after-action report to analyze the lessons learned from this experience in Austin. That could include upgrading facilities or looking into new technology to increase capacity at the plants, Cronk said. They may also discuss how to teach residents to conserve and manage their water use, both during and outside of a boil water notice.

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