Austin Water director apologizes, says zebra mussels a known risk

Zebra Mussels

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin Water Director Greg Meszaros apologized to customers Monday after five days of smelly water, caused by dead zebra mussels. 

Meszaros said Austin Water crews flushed their system of the smelly water over the weekend. “We’re not producing water anymore that smells,” he said. “This weekend our taste and odor index was down to zero which is the lowest you can have.” 

However, people were still reporting malodorous water Monday. 

“This is not a good circumstance. We don’t want customers to be experiencing fishy smelling water,” he said. “It just takes a while for this water to work through our system. It’s hard for us to predict exactly where the water may hang up and not circulate and that’s where we rely on customer calls.” 

Austin Water has been encouraging people to call 311 if they continued to experience smelly tap water. Meszaros explained, the agency sent out crews to flush the system to those areas.

He said they will keep flushing the system until not a single customer is dealing with the smelly water.

“As long as it takes to get every customer back to having high-quality water,” Meszaros said. “We’re seeing this dissipate. We’re not seeing, again, water coming out of the plants that smells anymore, but we might have pockets of this persisting as it takes time for the water to work its way through the system.”

Last week, officials confirmed the invasive species of zebra mussels were the cause of the smell and taste. “Zebra mussels are infesting our raw water system very rapidly and we have plans and resources in place to manage that,” Meszaros said.

Among the plans, Meszaros said crews will not only work to clean out the infestation but will also resort to chemical cleaning as well. 

“Zebra mussels were a known risk for us,” he said. “We have to do better about managing that issue.” 

Also last week, Austin Water told people the smell would improve within 24 hours.

When asked why the smell lingered, Meszaros said he should’ve been more specific. 

The smell of water coming out of Ullrich Water Treatment Plant, he said, improved by Friday, but because the city has 4,000 miles of pipes, it takes a while for odorless water to reach certain homes. 

Some people said they wish Austin Water clearly communicated that earlier on.

“Their updates have been very incremental. Vague, to say the least,” said Joseph Pugh who lives in south Austin. 

He said Austin Water should’ve contacted every customer directly, noting some people who don’t use Twitter or Facebook may miss the agency’s messages. 

“I subscribe to paperless billing, so I know they have my email,” he said. “They have my information. But I did not get, I’m not active on Twitter.”

In response, Meszaros said because of the way the system is set up, it’s hard to pinpoint exactly who’s being affected when. 

He also said, if someone called 311, they called back.

When KXAN checked with Austin’s 311, they had received 1,698 calls between 11 a.m. Sunday and 4 p.m. Monday. 

Some of the highest numbers of calls came from these ZIP codes:

  • 78748 – 399 calls
  • 78749 – 261 calls
  • 78745 – 184 calls
  • 78739 – 132 calls
  • 78754 – 91 calls

Various other ZIP codes had fewer than 100 calls to 311.

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