Austin officials ‘cautiously optimistic’ they can restore most water in next 48 hours, expect boil notice to last into next week

Temperatures have remained below freezing throughout the blackouts in Austin. (Christopher Neely/Community Impact Newspaper)
Temperatures have remained below freezing throughout the blackouts in Austin. (Christopher Neely/Community Impact Newspaper)

Temperatures have remained below freezing throughout the blackouts in Austin. (Christopher Neely/Community Impact Newspaper)

After days without power, most of Austin is now without water after a historic winter storm damaged critical water infrastructure throughout the city. Officials said Feb. 19 they are “cautiously optimistic” that they can restore water to most of the city in the next 48 hours.

Austin Water Director Greg Meszaros said he has seen a “significant improvement” in water pressure throughout the city. As of the evening of Feb. 19, much of North and South Austin were still without water. View maps of the outages, updated every 12 hours, here.

“My opinion, ... and it’s just an opinion, is that the system is going to see significant improvement over the weekend, and a large majority of our customers are going to have pressure returned to their homes,” Meszaros said. “I’m cautiously optimistic that we’re on the right path and we’re to going to see a positive recovery hour after hour. Literally, every hour, it’s getting better.”

Meszaros said the subfreezing temperatures brought on by the winter storm led to water main breaks, burst pipes, increased water use and the shutdown of Austin’s Ullrich Water Treatment Plant—the city’s largest. The burst pipes and increased usage almost entirely drained Austin’s 100 million-gallon water reserve. The depleted reserves caused a drop in pressure, which led to outages for large swaths of the city.

Since the decreased pressure and busted pipes made the system vulnerable to allowing in groundwater, Austin Water issued an indefinite boil-water notice for the entire city Feb. 17. Meszaros said residents should expect that to last into next week. He said parts of the city with critical infrastructure, such as hospitals and medical centers, would be prioritized for having water restored and the boil-water notice lifted.

“Our first goal is just to get water service to everybody, and then, from there, we'll be working to lift the boil-water notice,” Meszaros said. “This is all going to come together into early next week.”

While the city waits for water infrastructure to be restored, City Manager Spencer Cronk said the Federal Emergency Management Agency was on its way to Austin, by air and ground, to deliver pallets of water bottles to the city for distribution. The city also bought a million gallons of water from surrounding states, all of which is expected to arrive Feb. 19 evening, Cronk said.

Cronk also said the city is already receiving small deliveries of water as well. He did not clarify the source but said hospitals, shelters and warming centers are being prioritized for the immediate deliveries. He said the city is also setting up distribution centers that will “operate from sunup to sundown” and provide one case of water per car at the center.

Cronk said the city would release details for the distribution centers, as well as information on how much water the city is receiving, by the night of Feb. 19. He said what the city has planned right now is “not enough” to get the city through the crisis.

“We are not through this yet. We do have customers and residents that are still suffering immensely from the events,” Cronk said. “We know this has been hard. We apologize for what we have put everyone through. We will continue to do everything we can to make this better.”

Meszaros said the water utility is looking at all avenues to bring relief to Austin Water customers and to ensure they are not having to pay for the damage caused by the storm.
By Christopher Neely
Christopher Neely is Community Impact's Austin City Hall reporter. A New Jersey native, Christopher moved to Austin in 2016 following years of community reporting along the Jersey Shore. His bylines have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Baltimore Sun, USA Today and several other local outlets along the east coast.


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