Austin Water's investigation of the multiday early February boil-water notice released March 29 has verified the utility's initial assessment that employee error directly led to the citywide water quality breakdown.

“This in-depth investigatory process has confirmed our preliminary findings that there were failures in staff’s response to deteriorating plant conditions and communications up the chain of command,” said Greg Meszaros, the outgoing director of the civic utility, in a statement. “This is unacceptable, and Austin Water managers are taking steps to ensure that it does not happen again."

Meszaros tendered his resignation last month following the incident and will depart Austin Water early next month. Former Assistant City Manager Robert Goode was announced as Meszaros' temporary replacement last week and will formally step in as interim director April 11.

According to Austin Water, members of the three-person shift—the "Orange Team"—on duty Feb. 4-5 at Ullrich Water Treatment Plant did not properly address "deteriorating plant conditions" or alert their supervisors of the mounting issues at the plant. The failures occurred as one of the plant's treatment basins was brought online, a process that involves "seeding" untreated water with solids to remove unwanted particles.

Austin Water found the employees allowed the seeding process to continue for hours longer than it should have, overwhelming the treatment system and eventually causing cloudy water to spill into Austin's drinking water supply. Meszaros previously said the water's turbidity, a key measure of clarity, was "totally out of control" by early Feb. 5 due to the oversight. The Orange Team never reached out to their chain of command or provided updates on the deteriorating water quality during the incident, the utility said.

While the error was identified early Feb. 5 before the cloudy water had a chance to spread across Austin, federal regulations require a boil notice to be issued if the water turbidity passes a certain point. With those limits reached, Meszaros said he called a precautionary notice for the entire city that lasted until late Feb. 8.

Newly released investigation reports from Austin Water have identified the three responsible Orange Team staffers and confirmed allegations against each employee.

Investigators with Austin Water and the city's human resources department found Senior Operations Technician Jason Perez, Treatment Associate Joseph Dooley, and Technician Assistant Benjamin Petrush were all at fault for failures to follow utility protocols and request help from supervisors throughout the incident. Those findings prove violations of city policy, investigators said.

Perez has nearly 10 years of experience at Austin Water; Petrush worked at the utility for more than eight years; and Dooley has been employed there since September 2020. All three remain on administrative leave "until the appropriate level of discipline is determined and administered," according to Amy Petri, a marketing manager for Austin Water.

City Council is expected to review the new investigation report during its March 31 water utility oversight committee meeting. Council's March 30 audit committee meeting will also include a discussion of the external audit into Austin Water operations the city will commission at an estimated cost of $200,000-$1 million.