Austin Water hoping to store drinking water underground with 'Aquifer Storage and Recovery'

- The boiling, the water bottles, the press conferences, Austin's historic city-wide boil water notice is now in the rear-view mirror but the questions linger.

At Tuesday morning's City Council work session, Assistant City Manager Ray Arellano did a play-by-play of the City of Austin's response.

Council Member Leslie Pool asked about the city's methods of notifying the public that Monday morning, including restaurant owners.

"It seemed to come late.  Late, meaning after 6 in the morning when a lot of the coffee shops and other restaurants were already getting their preps started for the day," Pool said. 

"It wasn't until Tuesday that we actually met the mandatory requirement for boil water and by that time food establishments as well as the community at large was certainly well aware of the requirements," Arellano said. 

"I'll be honest, when I heard about it, I didn't really focus on the pre-emptive nature of it, I just heard 'boil the water because if you drink it you may get sick' and I think that was really the message that was being delivered to the city," Pool said.

Pool says it's easy to "Monday-morning-quarterback" these sorts of things but given the circumstances city staff and residents did a good job.

Austin Water Director Greg Meszaros briefed council on the Water Forward plan looking 20 years into the future.  But Meszaros says that plan does not include looking at additional water sources other than the Colorado River.

"Well we're not anticipating in anytime over the next few decades that we would do any kind of a new water source like import ground water, that was something that we did examine quick...closely working with our task force and determined that was not a recommendation that was sustainable for us," Meszaros said.

Something else Austin Water isn't considering: expanding treatment plants.

"Quite frankly I don't think a major plant expansion is a solution that will be the most cost-effective or beneficial as a result of this boil water notice.  Projects like that take often decades to execute," Meszaros said. 

What IS in the plan -- concepts like rainwater collection and water re-usage.

"University of Texas uses 65 million gallons of water a year that are created by their chiller plants just condensing water as those systems work to cool the campus.  That's 10% of their total water use," said Water Forward Task Force Chair Sharlene Leurig.

And as Meszaros describes it, storing billions of gallons of drinking water underground.  Something called Aquifer Storage and Recovery.

"Have a strategic reserve of water that will help us meet resiliency both in terms of drought as well as times of river quality upset as we experienced here recently," Meszaros said.

"If we can manage our use and preserve it then the idea that we wouldn't have to take from another community, that we could just manage within our own resources strikes me as the Austin way, not pitting one city against another city and not stealing some resource from another city in order to benefit us," Pool said.  

Austin Water says Council gave them some things to think about so they'll take the Water Forward plan back to them later this month with a possible vote from council on the 29th.

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