AUSTIN (KXAN) — As the city’s water treatment plants struggled under the strain of major flooding and a boil water notice began in October, city workers ramped up spending to deal with the emergency.
Records obtained by KXAN show nearly $2 million spent on food, water, supplies and treatment plant repairs during the crisis.
The city instituted the boil-water notice on Oct. 22. At that time, major flooding in the Llano River had muddied Austin’s drinking water supply in Lakes Travis and Austin. Choked up treatment facilities couldn’t keep pace with demand. For eight days, everyone using Austin city water was asked to restrict use and boil it before consumption.
As part of our investigation into the origin of the emergency and the city’s handling of it, KXAN requested emails between city leaders that showed the city created a special spending code to identify purchases related to the boil water emergency. KXAN obtained those spending records.
Emergency spending included more than $700,000 in treatment plant supplies and repairs. Austin Water Utility Director Greg Meszaros said the costs addressed a combination of normal repairs done during the cooler weather and measures to address the emergency.
“We didn’t have a mechanical failure at the plant that was the root cause of this.”
“Some of those would be things that broke during the boil water notice. After the boil water notice we had to take parts of the plants down to check them and clean them, which means we had to accelerate other repairs that normally we wouldn’t have to do in an emergency,” Meszaros said. “We didn’t have a mechanical failure at the plant that was the root cause of this. This was predominantly because of the natural disaster of the Llano flooding and the river quality upset that that created. This was really unprecedented for us.”
Between Oct. 22 and 28, the city paid more than $175,000 for repairs on vaporizers on carbon dioxide storage tank at its Davis Water Treatment Plant. More than a week after the boil water notice ended, on Nov. 6, the city paid $400,000 for repairs to clarifiers at the Ullrich Water Treatment Plant.
Repairs to treatment facilities didn’t end with the boil water notice, either, Meszaros said.
“Just because we had lifted the boil water notice doesn’t mean we didn’t need to expeditiously attend to bringing these systems back into service or bringing systems into service as we took other parts down,” he said. “This wasn’t’ an issue that ended the day we lifted the boil water notice.”
The city spent over $1.13 million on potable water during the emergency, including $836,304 on truckloads of emergency water on Oct. 30 alone.
To fortify employees working during the emergency, the city also spent $61,441 on food and refreshments. Some of the largest single takeout orders included $1,412 at Green Mesquite, $1,178 at Maggiano’s Little Italy, and $1,355 at Bamboo Bistro.
Austin also spent nearly $70,000 on supplies during the crisis. That included over $21,000 on portable toilets on Oct. 23 and over $14,000 for “rental of equipment for flood mitigation” from Hertz on Oct. 25.