Austin Water: Be prepared to be without water for days, not hours

Austin

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Rachel Finken sat in her south Austin home Thursday, going on her second day without water. She and her family are down to their final supply; just a half a case of bottled water.

Heeding a warning from KXAN’s Jim Spencer last week, Finken said they thought they’d done everything they could to prepare. Stockpiled enough water to last a few days and filled one of the bathtubs in their home.

She’s afraid that still might not be enough.

“If we knew this was going to be one day or two days, that would be one thing, but not knowing and the possibility of extending longer — makes it pretty hard to deal with, because we don’t know what to plan for,” Finken told KXAN.

The city still doesn’t know exactly how many Austin Water customers don’t have service. The closest estimate is tens of thousands. Austin Water Director Greg Meszaros explained during a virtual news conference Thursday that bringing water service back will be a slow, methodical process.

Meszaros said conditions will improve every day, but it will be a ‘multi-day process.’

Electrical interruptions at the city’s largest water treatment plant caused water pressure to drop Wednesday. Soon after, a citywide boil water notice was issued. That plant is back online now, Austin Water said, but the water issues affected some of Austin’s largest hospital networks, including St. David’s South Austin Medical Center.

“We never imagined a day where hospitals wouldn’t have water, large segments of our customer base wouldn’t have water, and we’re committed to restoring our system as safely and rapidly as we can,” Meszaros said.

He said restoring water to those health facilities is one of their top priorities. Meszaros said they do have a plan, but it will take a lot of work. Here are some steps they will have to take to restore it.

Restore water pressure to the system: Demand for water increased the past few days due to water main breaks and busted pipes at residences. Meszaros said stable pressure is largely influenced by reservoirs, which were drained out and depleted of their supply over the last day or so.

“We have to bring those reservoirs back up to service,” he said.

That’s going to take some time. He explained the reservoirs store almost 100 million gallons of water (one day of water use in Austin), and at one point they were all nearly empty. On Tuesday the city said it lost 325 million gallons and couldn’t produce enough to keep up with the losses.

Checking for leaks along water mains: The bulk of the losses resulted from broken water mains, the city said.

“We have to find some of these leaks that caused water to drain out of our system during the height of the cold snap. If we simply try to turn they system back on, and we don’t do this in a methodical way, we’ll repeat what happened the other night where all the water drains out of the system. So, we have to treat this in a methodical, detailed way,” Meszaros said.

CLICK HERE to see the Austin Water Leaks Map.

Testing the water: Once the system is stabilized, they can sample the water and test it for bacteria. Meszaros said they are working with the state to expedite these processes.

Meszaros is continuing to ask residents to conserve water if they have it. And he said he’s seen a difference.

“I was looking at the numbers today, and our demand on the system… we are seeing lower demand relative to the amount of water we can produce,” he explained. “So that’s exactly the balance that we want.”

You can report leaks, main breaks or wastewater emergencies to Austin Water online here.

Water availability for the community

Director at the City of Austin Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management Juan Ortiz said water has been purchased and is on the way to Austin. They will distribute it to the most vulnerable when able.

However, he said unfortunately, water issues are not unique to the Austin-Travis County area, so they had to buy the water from out of state.

Additionally, Travis County Judge Andy Brown said two trucks of bottled water are scheduled to arrive in Central Texas on Friday morning to help people in need.

KXAN viewers report water issues

Most of the viewers who have reached out to KXAN say they live in southwest Austin or in the Circle C neighborhood.

“No water in Circle C or AT ALL in Southwest Austin,” Jennifer Hicks wrote to us.

“There are thousands of residents who have no water.  All I have heard about is boiling water… I would if I had any water,” Kelsey Friedman added.

“It’s very scary. I have a family of five so it feels a little nerve-wracking to have to deal with this and replenish our toilets,” said Jill Price.

“They put us on a boil water notice but you can’t get anything out of the faucet to boil and with the little I have in the tub, I’ve boiled a couple of pots, but let’s face it, that’s a losing battle,” explained Laurie Dillon.

“There is no water in 78749,” said Bonnie McCracken, which is also in southwest Austin. “HELP. It’s been off since yesterday at 11AM. I’m out of drinking water and now have to ask neighbors that have bottled water. Can you please get an answer on when it will come back on? I can’t get through to anyone with Austin Water or 311.”

“As an Austin resident, we have seen lots of notices and information about the water boil, but no one is really addressing those of us with no water at all,” explained KXAN viewer Jen Henry. “It has been absolutely impossible to get someone on the phone or get any information on water outages and what we can expect.”

Rachel Finken found a way to get by for the next several days but knows not everyone in Austin might be as fortunate.

“We’re really lucky that if the roads clear we can drive to their house and we can fill up on water, but I don’t know that everybody’s in that situation, so I’m worried about people who don’t have access to water and how many days they’re going to go without knowledge of where they’re going to get their drinking water from,” Finken said.

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