Q&A: Mayor Adler on Austin’s boil water notice


AUSTIN (KXAN) — KXAN’s John Dabkovich spoke with Austin Mayor Steve Adler Tuesday morning about the ongoing boil water notice situation in the city. Below is a transcript of their conversation.

Dabkovich: Where do we stand now? How are we looking compared to where we were 24 hours ago?

Adler: Well, in a lot of ways things are kind of the same as they were. What we’re asking everybody to do are two things: the first is to conserve. No one should be using water outside, washing cars, filling pools, irrigating lawns. Because the more we can conserve, the sooner we’ll be out of the boil water situation. On the inside, put off doing laundry — do it half as frequently as you normally do. Washing dishes — just anything that you can delay and conserve would be good.

We’re producing about 108 million gallons a day, but demand yesterday was about 120 [million gallons] which meant we’re dipping into reserves. So we’re asking people to conserve. Still, you can use that water for showering, flushing toilets and washing hands, that kind of thing. But, if you’re going to drink the water or use it for food prep, then you have to make sure you boil it first.

Dabkovich: What’s the bigger concern: the quality of the water or the supply of our water for the city right now?

Adler: Well right now I think it’s the supply first. So, I think the first priority for everybody is to conserve so that we can drop the demand level down. That doesn’t make boiling water any less important. You shouldn’t be drinking it or processing food with it. So, that’s important, too, but the real emphasis right now is to ask them to conserve.

Dabkovich: A lot of people have come to us saying, ‘Why make the announcement at 2 o’clock in the morning?’ Because they got up, they brushed their teeth in the morning, they had their coffee and they saw the news. Why did you guys feel that that was the time it needed to be made right then?

Adler: We did it maybe even earlier than we needed to. There was nobody that was brushing their teeth that morning that was in danger from doing that, but when it became apparent that this was a place we were headed, we wanted to get the news out as quickly as we could. We were able to spend the night and the hours just prior to making the public announcement making sure that hospitals are going to be OK and the schools are going to be OK.

But, when you think something like this is about to happen, it’s better to get it out as soon as you know so the people have that information.

Dabkovich: So, looking forward, what’s the next step? I know that they said their previous steps show there was no bacteria in the water — have there been other tests since then, or are there more tests coming with regards to that?

Adler: You know I haven’t seen any tests now to indicate there are bacteria present or any other little critters that they can be in water, but out of an abundance of caution because we can’t do all of the tests because of the turbidity — the cloudiness of the water with the silt — we have to assume that everybody needs to boil their water. So, everybody should do that. We’re asking everybody to do that.

And at this point what happens next, where we are, part of that depends with the weather. There’s a hurricane that now is moving through Mexico. We’re going to get rain from that on Wednesday. So, it could be several days. It could be into the weekend. It could be a week.

  • LIVE BLOG: Follow our updates on the boil water situation

Dabkovich: And, how concerned are folks in charge of this kind of stuff about that?

Adler: Well, you know, it’s going to increase the volume in the lake and in the rivers, so it’s going to delay the silt from being able to settle so it just prolongs this experience for us.

Dabkovich: Do we have a light at the end of the tunnel yet? Can we look and say two, three days we should be done with this?

Adler: You know I don’t think it’ll be two or three days. I think it’s going to be a little bit longer than that. And, the light at the end of the tunnel is pretty much certain. We know it’s not gonna rain like this forever, we live in Austin, Texas. So it’s going to settle down, and then the silt will settle down and things will be back to normal again.

But in the meantime what we’re asking people to do is conserve, because if we have those reserves we’re sure we have the supply we need and the fire flow. It’s an inconvenience to have to boil the water, but it’s something that is certainly doable. This is a — we’ve never had an occurrence like this.

Dabkovich: In the news conference [Monday] you said the city was working with its contractors and retailers to bring in bottled water. Where does that stand?

Adler: We have a lot of bottled water that’s coming into the city. A lot of the suppliers, grocery stores and chains, are bringing in truck after truck of bottled water. You know, in a hurricane situation or things like that you have vast areas that are in need of water coming in. This is kind of an isolated incident so it’s easier to bring in water. 

But, we also have cities that are helping in Fort Worth, San Antonio — [which are] sending down their big tanker trucks. So, there are a lot of people that are helping.

They have some great professionals who are working really diligently in the water department. They’re cleaning the filters as quickly and regularly as we can. And, as I go around, everybody is doing what we need to do.

Dabkovich: Forgive me if this is a dumb question, but our water treatment plants, do they typically run at 100 percent capacity or do we have sort of, for lack of a better term, another gear we can put them into in times like this?

Adler: We have another gear. In fact, we’re only using about a third of the capacity that the water treatment plants have. The problem isn’t the capacity. The problem is there’s so much mud that’s going through the system that we have to, in essence, turn off the plant in order to be cleaning filters repeatedly, over and over again. And then, the plants can go back on. So it’s not a capacity issue. We have tons of capacity. We just have too much mud.

Dabkovich: Last question. We’ve seen people running out to the stores to buy water. We know during the news conference you were trying to caution people against doing that. Should people feel comfortable that we have enough water in the city of Austin either in the stores or various other places that they don’t need to run out and stock up?

Adler:  We’re not running out of water in Texas or in the country. So, water is going to continue to arrive. As people are buying water, there’s more waters coming in that’s going to replenish the supply.   So there’s not a scarcity of water. I mean, it’s certainly convenient to have the bottled water, but frankly, you’d probably save a lot more time than going to the store and waiting in line if you just boiled a little water at home. It works just as well. 

Dabkovich: Has the city spoken with H-E-B and these big grocery store chains about having more deliveries? Or did they even have to? Was that just an automatic response for them?

Adler: I think probably both those things are true. You know, I had direct communications myself, and city staff are having those conversations. But, I think it would probably be something they’d be doing on their own. We probably gave them a heads up so the process would start earlier than it would have otherwise. 

Dabkovich: All right, very good. Anything else you’d like to add?

Adler: Nope, just those two things. People should be conserving at this point as much as they can. No outside watering. Limit what you use inside. And then, don’t drink the water or wash food with it. Boil it first.

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