Cloudy water, dead fish in Shoal Creek caused by water main break

The green, murky water seen in Shoal Creek this week was caused by a broken water main, according to Austin Water.

Austin Water and the Watershed Protection Department responded on Tuesday, March 14, to the broken pipe along Shoal Creek near Bull Creek Rd. 

"Similar to heavy rain, the pressurized water leaving the water main can result in a cloudy or muddy appearance of the water in Shoal Creek," said a spokesperson for Austin Water. "These fine, suspended particles will settle out over the next few days."

Speculation began when videos and photos were posted on Reddit

One resident FOX 7 spoke to whose home is along the creek noticed the change, noting the water was usually pretty clear.

The green, murky water seen in Shoal Creek this week was caused by a broken water main. (Reddit user: letMeBeFranks)

According to Austin Water, Texas Parks & Wildlife Department and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality were notified. Water main repairs were completed by Wednesday.

Watershed Protection staff originally observed around 30 dead fish along the bank when they visited the site. However, on March 17, they found that about 300 fish were killed.

"Last night's storm pushed debris in the creek, along with the fish, toward an inlet where staff were able to see the full extent of the spill impact. WPD field crews will be onsite this weekend to clean the area. The City has provided updated information to the TCEQ and TPWD," Watershed Protection said.

The broken water main was carrying treated drinking water.

"While water is safe for human consumption and contact, chlorinated water is impactful to aquatic life," said a spokesperson for Austin Water. "Before the water could be valved off, and the flow stopped, AW initiated de-chlorination steps to minimize direct impacts to the aquatic habitat." 

The blue, de-chlorination tablets could be seen throughout the creek bed on Thursday morning. Austin Water said no additional impacts to the creek are expected and WPD continues to monitor conditions.

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Blue, de-chlorination tablets could be seen throughout the creek bed

"I don't think that there's anything that we necessarily think they could have done differently this time, other than to potentially have noticed the threat of this break earlier," said Ivey Kaiser, executive director of the Shoal Creek Conservancy. "Just continuing to monitor everything as much as possible so that we don't have these instances, and then if we do, continuing to respond as quickly as possible to save as many fish and prevent other negative impacts...that's really our ask for Austin Water."

It’s unclear what caused the water main break. A similar scenario occurred in Dec. 2022 along Walnut Creek. 

According to Austin Water, no wildlife was harmed at that time.

TCEQ shared the following statement with FOX 7:

"The TCEQ Austin Region was notified of a potable water discharge into Shoal Creek on March 14, 2023, by the City of Austin’s Watershed Protection Department. The discharge was the result of a drinking water main break on a 12-inch pipe near Shoal Creek Blvd and Bull Creek Rd. The TCEQ Austin Region responded on scene on March 15, 2023, and noted turbid water conditions and dead fish, and that the City had taken steps to reduce the chlorine concentration in the creek. The pipe was repaired the morning of March 15, 2023, and the Austin Region will continue to monitor the event until the creek returns to normal conditions."