City texts, emails shed light on Austin's historic 'boil water notice'

Through public information requests, FOX 7 has obtained communications between Austin city leaders, spokespersons, and other city staff -- shedding some light on what the weekend leading up to October 22nd was like. That Monday morning Austin issued a historic city-wide boil water notice due to the poor water quality coming out of the Colorado river, where Austin gets drinking water.

Saturday afternoon October 20th: 2 days before the boil water notice, Austin Water Director Greg Meszaros texted City Manager Spencer Cronk giving him a heads up that flooding had affected the raw water quality.

"Our plants and operating staff are being pushed hard to remove all the material and soil that's been washed into the river. We are keeping up but it's placing significant demand on utility resources."

By Sunday morning Meszaros was telling Mayor Adler and Council Members he was going to ask the public to start conserving. "The water is safe to drink but we need to manage demand as a result of the treatment plant capacity constraints."

Late Sunday night the Emergency Operations Center was mobilized. City public information specialists started texting about what was coming: a city-wide boil-water notice the next morning.

A little after 3 Monday morning, Don Hastings with Austin Public Health announced a 6am press conference at City Hall and sending out a list of nursing homes to call.

E-mails and texts from Mayor Adler show questions about questions he's getting asked like "is it safe to wash your hands" in this water?

One Austin resident reached out to Council Members and the Mayor saying "It's noon and we just found out about the boil water notice.  We had water today!  My question is why didn't all city officials do a reverse 911 call to all the residents?"

Others were concerned the message wasn't getting out to the hearing impaired.  Pointing out a sign-language interpreter wasn't used in the first press conference.

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From the business perspective, the "Chief Executive Grocer" of Wheatsville Co-Op sent Council Member Greg Casar an e-mail: frustrated by the handling of the issue especially when it comes to food businesses. "Prohibitions on handwashing essentially shut us down and forced us to send dozens of staff home without pay (and for how long)?  We can't pay salaries without being able to produce food," the C.E.G. said.

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Among the documents was an e-mail from Council Member Alison Alter saying a constituent had pointed out the turbidity - or water clarity -- levels weren't unprecedented and the resident suggested it was an infestation of Zebra Mussels that were actually causing the problems. Director Meszaros responded saying while Zebra Mussels are present, they weren't interfering with plant operations.