AUSTIN (KXAN) — Bernie Reyes, a resident of the Austin’s Colony neighborhood in east Travis County, noticed orange water coming from his faucet last week.
“Anyone else experiencing colored water this morning?” Reyes posted, with a picture of his sink filled with orange water, to the popular neighborhood social media platform Nextdoor.
Hornsby Bend Utility Company, a subsidiary of SouthWest Water Company, said the discoloration was caused by a well added to the line on Dec. 7 that services Austin’s Colony, which the company says has since been fixed.
Reyes told KXAN his water still tinted yellow on Tuesday morning, six days after his original post.
“The well was immediately taken offline, and the affected area has been flushed to bring in freshwater,” Tim Williford, vice president of operations for Texas Utilities. “We appreciate our customers’ feedback and patience during this process and apologize for the inconvenience.”
SouthWest Water Company said the discolored water was tested and was still safe, so a boil water advisory wasn’t necessary. While the company also asked residents to flush out their water supplies, it will not be offering any credits to their bills.
Even with a water softener and filtration system, Jennifer Mack, a mother of three, fears for her family’s safety.
“Our sprayer is still coated with the brown sludge,” Mack told KXAN. “We have been buying water to cook with, to brush our teeth with.”
Austin’s Colony residents are used to hard water and high prices.
Since Austin’s Colony is in an unincorporated area of Travis County, there’s little oversight or community involvement with Hornsby Bend Utility Company or SouthWest Water Company. The companies say rates are higher than the City of Austin’s rates because support for the utility doesn’t come from tax revenue.
Tina Byram, vice president of the Del Valle Community Coalition, an organization that strives for equity for all, said she welcomes a forum for the utility companies to share their needs and challenges with the community, but that much of their operation is kept away from the public.
While incorporation would likely lead to higher taxes for residents, Byram believes it would improve accountability and potentially lower overall utility costs. Byram said her utility bill is nearly $500 each month, including bottled water her family purchases.
“It’s like taxation without representation,” Byram said. “(The utilities) don’t have to answer to us. We’re a captive audience.”
In 2018, seven Austin’s Colony residents reported leaking pipes and flooding. SouthWest Water Company said it was cleaning a tank nearby but an independent investigation proved the issue wasn’t the company’s fault.
Austin’s Colony falls under Rep. Lloyd Doggett’s district. He says people who live there have legitimate concerns.
“At the request of the Del Valle Community Coalition, I am supporting federal legislation requiring the EPA to study water affordability, shutoffs, discrimination, and civil rights violations by water providers and to provide additional funding to upgrade water infrastructure,” Doggett said in a statement.