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Photo by Gabriel C. Pérez/KUT. An Austin Water employee fills a bottle with drinking water at a distribution site on Sunday amid the boil-water notice.

Don’t worry if you drank the Austin tap water. It was fine all along.

Thursday, February 10, 2022 by Audrey McGlinchy, KUT

The water flowing out of Austin taps is now safe to drink – and apparently was all along.

Austin Water issued a boil-water notice on Saturday night, asking that all customers of the public utility boil their water for at least two minutes before drinking it or cooking with it.

A spokesperson for the utility told KUT on Wednesday that the state, which has to clear the city to rescind a boil-water notice, did not find any contaminants in tests of the water the city sent over the past several days.

“Though our water disinfection parameters were strong and remained within regulatory levels, we issued a boil water notice as a precaution, because the risk of contaminants is raised when there are suspended particles, or high levels of turbidity, in the water,” Amy Petri, a spokesperson for Austin Water, said in an email. “No contaminants have been detected in the water.”

When the utility asks residents to boil their water, it is often just a precaution.

“Austin Water issues boil-water notices even if the possibility of contamination is remote to safeguard the health of the community,” the utility’s website reads.

According to a preliminary timeline provided to KUT, Austin Water staff first noticed high levels of turbidity, or cloudiness, in the water at the city’s Ullrich Water Treatment Plant at 8 a.m. on Saturday. Austin Water Director Greg Meszaros said the problem was caused by employee error.

“It’s becoming clear that this was errors from our operating staff at our Ullrich plant,” Meszaros said at a press conference Sunday. “(There were) oversights in how they attended the process of treating water at Ullrich, and that’s certainly unacceptable to us.”

Staff shut the plant down an hour and a half later, and moved production to the city’s two other treatment facilities.

Austin Water began testing the water at Ullrich and sending those results to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, a state agency, that afternoon. By 5:15 p.m., the agency decided Austin Water would need to issue a boil-water notice. In a public advisory sent later that night, the city of Austin called the requirement precautionary and said there was little risk that the water was unsafe.

“We can be thankful, too, that the situation was noticed quickly and steps taken, any public health risk is very, very small, and we’re much better prepared right now with equipment and supplies as we open water distribution stations,” Austin Mayor Steve Adler said in the press release announcing the boil-water notice Saturday. “It appears this will be over in a couple of days, and the city will keep everyone informed along the way.”

KUT has asked the public utility what exactly employees did to cause a three-day boil-water notice. A spokesperson for Austin Water did not answer the question directly and instead said that a “thorough investigation” would begin after the boil-water notice was lifted.

Austin City Council members have called for a public meeting to better understand what went wrong and how Austin Water can prevent this issue from happening again. That meeting is expected to take place Tuesday.

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

The Austin Monitor’s work is made possible by donations from the community. Though our reporting covers donors from time to time, we are careful to keep business and editorial efforts separate while maintaining transparency. A complete list of donors is available here, and our code of ethics is explained here.

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