AUSTIN (KXAN) — One water utility expert said it’s surprising to see a city-wide boil water notice for a place as big as Austin.
“Typically, boil water notices are going to be regional-specific, especially if there’s– if it’s a big town,” said John Shaw, a consulting civil engineer based in Nevada. “You’ve got distribution systems that are–cover hundreds of square miles, then your boil water order is going to be specific to a pressure zone, or a certain part of the distribution system, rather than, you know, city wide.”
It turns out, Austin’s water distribution system isn’t sectioned off that way.
Leaders commissioned the newest water treatment plant, Handcox, also known as Water Treatment Plant 4, in 2014.
“WTP4 will add reliability by giving Austin Water Utility customers an additional, newly constructed treatment plant that draws from a different water source and will provide for continuous service during shutdowns and repairs for the other treatment plants,” a statement on Austin Water’s website reads.
The agency has a total of three water treatment plants — Handcox, Ullrich, and Davis.
Austin Water said once they took Ullrich offline after discovering high turbidity, they increased treatment and production at the other two “in order to keep our reservoirs full, pressure within regulatory standards, and water flowing to all customers.”
But they say water from all three plants ultimately mixes together once it leaves the plant and enters into the city’s distribution system, so they had to issue a boil notice for the whole city.
The City of Austin has had three city-wide boil alerts in the last four years.
Mayor Pro-Tem Alison Alter also points to other water quality concerns, like a bad smell coming from Zebra Mussels back in 2019.
All these incidents, she said, call for an external review of the Austin Water department.
“We have had several after action reports and we need to to make sure that we’re not looking at only, you know, individual recommendations and can see the forest of what’s going on,” she said.
Alter said she hopes to bring in water experts to figure out technical and operational issues with the department, and any investments that need to be made.
“I think we, as a city, need to recognize that it has an impact and imposes on people’s lives, and we have to understand that people should expect and deserve better from our public services,” she said.