Austin’s boil water notice now mandatory after contamination level exceeds legal limit

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After officials said Tuesday that the call for residents to boil tap water before consumption was “absolutely precautionary,” the city Wednesday issued a mandatory call as contamination levels in the system have exceeded the state’s legal limit, according to a news release.

Officials made the initial call to boil water Monday morning after sediment levels in the water entering Austin’s water treatment plants reached 8,000 percent their normal level, effectively constricting the plants’ clean water production to about one-third. The call, though, was a precautionary measure, said Austin Water Director Greg Meszaros, as the contamination never exceeded the limit set by state law.

However, the city’s water has now exceeded the contamination limit set by state law, Austin Water officials determined Wednesday, and the precautionary boil water notice is now a mandatory one.

“We wanted it to be mandatory the whole time, but now [the boil water call]is state mandated,” city spokesman Bryce Bencivengo said.

The water emergency follows weeks of heavy and consistent rainfall in the Central Texas region, sparking several destructive floods that have carried heavy levels of sediment into Austin’s water resources.

The news release issued Wednesday morning explained the turbidity level—a measure of sediment in the water—exceeded the state’s standard. Although turbidity itself has no health effects, it can “indicate the presence of disease-causing organisms.”

“These organisms include bacteria, viruses, and parasites that can cause symptoms, such as nausea, cramps, diarrhea, and associated headaches,” the news release said. “These symptoms can be particularly severe in people who are not as resistant to infections as most of the population.”

Boiling the water, the news release said, kills the organisms and bacteria.

Mayor Steve Adler said Tuesday barring any major weather event, the boil water notice should be lifted by the weekend. However, he continued to urge Austinites to cut back on water use to expedite the process.

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Christopher Neely
Christopher Neely is Community Impact's Austin City Hall reporter. A New Jersey native, Christopher moved to Austin in 2016 following two years of community reporting along the Jersey Shore. His bylines have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Baltimore Sun and USA Today. He is a graduate of the University of Maryland's Philip Merrill College of Journalism.
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