The city of Austin issued a citywide boil water notice the night of Feb. 17.
Austin Water is currently unable to meet customer demand. Over the past 24 hours, pumping demand has been 2 1/2 times greater than its capacity, a result of residents dripping faucets, storing water and water main breaks in the region, Austin Water Director Greg Meszaros said during a news conference Feb. 17.
The number of both public and private water main breaks that have occurred over the past three days is likely more than Austin Water has ever seen in its 100-year history. Austin Mayor Steve Adler said the city’s service area is approaching 300 million gallons of water use a day, which is two to three times larger than the city has ever seen.
Austin Water has already issued a boil-water notice for areas of Southwest Austin and the Lost Creek neighborhood. Meszaros said he believes a significant water main break in the Circle C area is the culprit, causing many to go without water and reduced water pressure.
However, that notice may be expanded to other areas in Austin if the overall demand does not decrease.
“We're working to avoid a citywide boil-water notice, but we can't take it off the table if we can't audibly bring demand down and better match it up with production,” he said. “This is affecting our entire system, and leaks and breaks and water usage is everywhere.”
Austin Water is asking all residents to stop dripping their faucets and to limit water use to essentials. Meszaros said a single household dripping three faucets can produce a gallon of water a minute, and doing that over the course of a day could total 1,400 gallons down the drain. With more than 100,000 homes dripping faucets since the weekend, demand has increased well above use expected on an average winter day.
“We’re going to need a lot of community help here,” he said. “We're really in a decision-making mode of trying to restore water to hospitals and for fire protection and other essential services and really need customers to cut back on things like dripping faucets, and managing appliance use like dishwashers and washers if at all possible.”
Austin is not the only city facing a water crisis amid the ongoing flurry or winter weather and low temperatures. The city of Houston, for example, put a citywide boil-water notice in place Feb. 17 due to low water pressure and increased demand, Meszaros said.
“This is not just unique to Austin. This is happening with all of our water colleagues,” he said.