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Director of Austin Water resigns after three-day boil-water notice caused by ’employee error’

Monday, February 14, 2022 by Audrey McGlinchy, KUT

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The head of Austin’s public water utility has resigned after an employee mistake at a water treatment facility resulted in residents having to boil their water for three days to ensure it was safe to drink.

In a letter sent Friday to City Manager Spencer Cronk, Greg Meszaros said after 15 years at the helm of Austin Water, he was “ready to step aside.” He said he made the decision “in consultation with my family and my circle of close and trusted friends.”

Meszaros did not say when his last day would be.

His resignation comes just days after the city and surrounding communities emerged from a three-day mandatory boil-water notice. This was the city’s third boil-water notice in at least four years, one of which was caused by a power outage at a water treatment plant during the February 2021 winter storm.

During this latest one, the public utility said employee error caused issues at a water treatment plant, forcing the city to issue the notice, which lasted from Saturday to Tuesday. Austin Water serves more than 1 million residential customers with an annual operating budget of roughly $654 million.

In his resignation letter, Meszaros wrote that he took “full responsibility for any shortcomings” at the public utility this past week.

The utility has refused to say what exactly went wrong to cause increased turbidity, or cloudiness, of water at the Ullrich Water Treatment Plant on Saturday. But in a separate memo sent Friday, Meszaros said Austin Water has placed three employees on administrative leave while the city investigates.

The city of Austin hired Meszaros to lead its public water utility in 2007. Last year, he earned nearly $217,000 while overseeing the department.

In a memo attached to Meszaros’ resignation letter, Cronk said he would appoint an interim director. He did not say who this might be or when it would happen.

Cronk said it is important to regain the public’s trust following this latest boil-water event. City Council members are scheduled to vote next Thursday on whether to hire a third party to audit what went wrong.

Austin Water is conducting an internal review, the results of which are expected in the coming weeks.

“We are committed to doing all that is necessary to regain that trust,” Cronk wrote in the memo. “Nothing is more important to me and our organization.”

City Council members have scheduled a public meeting on Tuesday to question Austin Water staff about the latest incident.

This story was produced as part of the Austin Monitor’s reporting partnership with KUT.

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