The boiling is over: What's next for Austin Water?

- After seven wild days of boiling water, business shutdowns, restaurant menu adjustments, water bottles, press conferences, emergency water conservation and a disaster declaration: on Sunday afternoon, Austin Water Director Greg Meszaros walked out of City Hall drinking a fresh glass of Austin water.  

The crisis was over.

"Our water system is safe, our pressures are good, our storage is recovered, our plants are operating well so people should feel very comfortable and confident with the water," Meszaros said.

Now the city will try to figure out how it happened in the first place.

"The next steps are going to be taking a hard look at...what was the water chemistry?  What was the main causes of this?  How can we adapt our systems into the future?  How can we get better at emergency response, at communication?" Meszaros said Sunday.

According to a memo from City Manager Spencer Cronk, over the next 10 to 14 days, Austin Water will perform system-wide operational checks, maintenance and plant cleanup.  They’ll also be making sure staff gets plenty of rest to recover from last week.

The memo says any time the Emergency Operations Center is activated, an "after action report" and "corrective action plan" is done.  Austin Water will also conduct its own "in-depth review" of its operations.

Council Member Ellen Troxclair was hoping to get enough support from her colleagues to bring forward a resolution at this week's council meeting but she says it may end up being on next week's agenda.

"It basically asks that Austin Water and the City Manager's office compile a list of detailed information for us about the status of our treatment plants, how we got in this situation?" Troxclair said.

Council Member Jimmy Flannigan points out that's work that's already going to be done.

"Really what we're talking about here is something that every council office is asking for, the staff is going to do.  We routinely have briefings on what's going on with our utilities and our departments without having to pass a resolution to do it.  We will get this information, we will have public meetings we will ask those hard questions," Flannigan said.

"This is what we're tasked to do is to represent our constituents and they're frustrated and they're asking a lot of questions about why this happened and what could be done to prevent it in the future and I think it's our responsibility, it's our job to make sure they're provided those answers and this resolution guarantees that the right questions will be asked," Troxclair said. 

Flannigan is proud of city staff for being precautious with the boil water notice.  He says now it's time to look to the future.

"I think the question is what the risk levels are at all of our water treatment plants from upstream incursions?  So were there studies, are there plans for what happens when there's a high level of runoff coming from upstream?  Or an oil tanker falls into the lake, I mean we have to make sure that we are being fully protected from all the different types of challenges," Flannigan said.

By the way, for those wondering whether Austin Water will give you a break on your bill: they reminded folks they still provided water safe to use for basic needs and consumption after boiling so you'll only be billed for what you used.

Short answer...no break.

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