Water Watch 2018

Austin's 'historic' boil water notice could last up to 14 days, says official

Austin's 'historic' boil water notice could last up to 14 days

News_Tap Water_Dec 09
Austin's boil water notice could last up to two weeks. Photo by Aidan McManus

KVUE — After the City of Austin issued a city-wide boil water notice Monday following historic flooding that brought in high levels of silt into the city's water supply, a city official said Tuesday that the boil water notice could last 10 to 14 more days.

The city issued the boil water notice because the high levels of silt is making it challenging for the water plants to produce the volume of water needed to supply customers.

Eric Carter, chief emergency management coordinator, said at a Travis County Commissioners Court meeting that "this situation could go on for 10 to 14 days as the water system tries to settle."

The boil water notice came just a day after city officials asked Austin Water customers to reduce their water usage. Austin City Manager Spencer Cronk said it's believed this is the first time in the water utility's history that they've issued a boil water notice for Austin.

Click here to see a map of Austin Water's service area. 

The city plans to lift the boil water notice once the treatment systems are stabilized, but it's not known the exact time when that will happen, Austin Water said.

Austin Water issued emergency water use restrictions Monday afternoon. Austin water plants use 105 million gallons of water each day and customers are currently using 120 million gallons per day, Austin Water said. All residents are asked to reduce their water use by 15 to 20 percent.

Austin Water said customers should not:

  • Use water for irrigation or testing of irrigation equipment
  • Wash vehicles, including at commercial car wash facilities
  • Wash pavement or other surfaces
  • Add water to a pool or spa
  • Conduct foundation watering
  • Operate an ornamental fountain or pond, other than aeration necessary to support aquatic life

Need to know
To ensure that water is safe, the city is asking all customers to boil water for at least three minutes before drinking it, cooking with it, using it as ice, brushing teeth, washing dishes, food preparation, and water for pets. Austin Water said the water right now could contain harmful microorganisms, which could cause symptoms like diarrhea, cramps, nausea, headaches, or other symptoms.

The water utility added that the inadequately treated water could pose a significant health risk for infants, young children and some elderly people with compromised immune systems.

Austin Water said the boil water notice does not affect laundry or bathing.

The high level of debris, silt and mud in the water supply requires an extended filtration process. Austin Water Director Greg Meszaros said crews have been working non-stop to get water levels where they need to be, and it has taken a toll on the city's three drinking-water plants.

In a news release, the city said, “To provide necessary water pressure for fire protection, [water] plants must distribute water at treatment levels not typical of the utility’s high standards for consumption.”

Meszaros said Austin Water has reduced capacity at those plants to try and treat the "high turbid or very cloudy water." Turbidity measures the degree of clarity for water, and Austin Water said Monday the level the river water is at is unprecedented.

"Typical drinking water is 0.3 NTU of clarity. The river water is over 400, and we've never seen it to that level before," Austin Water officials said.

Meszaros said the water looks like "chocolate milk or a milkshake."

Mayor Steve Adler echoed Austin Water's comments, "I think we've all seen the Lady Bird Lake as it has begun to turn more and more into something that looks like a milkshake. The sediment is just overwhelming the system. We have too much mud."

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To read the full story, head to KVUE.