AUSTIN (KXAN) — In her second year living in Austin, Sharlayne Arana is also experiencing her second boil water notice.
“I’ve never had anything like this happen to me, and I’ve honestly moved all around to a few different states before I settled in Austin,” said Arana, who is originally from Chicago. “And it has been completely terrifying to say the least, that this is happening more than once since I’ve been here, and I’ve only been here for a short period of time.”
Last February’s notice was issued after the state’s power grid failure as Austin’s water plants started to come back online. But just to the south, San Antonio didn’t need a citywide boil order like Austin did.
“It was the majority of it, but we were still able to have some sources of water coming in that were not affected … by the grid failure,” said Anne Hayden, San Antonio Water System spokesperson.
Hayden said they haven’t had a citywide notice in recent memory– over 20 years.
Hayden said most of their water comes from the ground and doesn’t need to be treated, like Austin’s does, since it’s surface water. They’ve also got nine different water sources going to different distribution areas.
“Since boil water notices follow the area of distribution of a water source, this means any notice for San Antonio is much smaller,” Hayden explained.
“If there’s a problem at one well, we just turn that pump station off, and we fill in the area from other areas,” she said. “San Antonio just happens to have a system that is widely diverse and is very spread out and doesn’t depend as much on water treatment.”
Austin’s water comes from one source, the Colorado River, and water treated at each of Austin’s three plants gets mixed together when distributed.
“Although this event unfortunately resulted in a citywide boil water notice, a networked distribution system connected to all our treatment plants generally provides greater reliability as routine maintenance and repairs are conducted. This keeps water flowing to all parts of town even when production capacity is limited in one plant,” an Austin Water spokesperson wrote in an email to KXAN.
Water researcher and engineer, Keisuke Ikehata said while that is an advantage of the system, it’s harder to isolate a problem.
“If they could be able to isolate certain areas affected by the turbid water, that could have helped,” said Ikehata, who is also an assistant engineering professor at Texas State University.
He said Austin could use a more advanced water treatment process, like UV disinfection, as an added safeguard against contamination.
“Thankfully it’s just me, and thankfully, I had those alerts ready,” said Arana, who had signed up for Austin Water tweet notifications after last February’s storm.
Arana just hopes this pattern doesn’t stick.
“Because I’ve lived in so many other places where I haven’t seen these issues, I’m wondering like, is it just an Austin thing at this point?” she said.
Austin Water told KXAN Monday the agency will conduct a full review of what lead to the worker error causing all of this. The notice was finally lifted Tuesday night, and some city council members are also calling for an external review of what the agency can do better.
“This was a huge frustration and I’ll work with my colleagues and the community to make sure it DOESN’T HAPPEN AGAIN,” tweeted council member Natasha Harper-Madison Tuesday night, when the boil water order was lifted.
Still, Ikehata hopes people appreciate the daily hard work of utility employees.
“There are a lot of hard working people in our industry. We are trying to save and protect our, you know, the safety of the water,” he said.