Questions for Austin Water Oversight Meeting

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Alison Alter
Posts: 136
Joined: Fri Jan 13, 2017 3:52 pm

Questions for Austin Water Oversight Meeting

Post by Alison Alter »

Dear Colleagues,

The water crisis in our city continues and for many Austinities living conditions remain dire. Hundreds of apartment complexes and homes still do not have access to the water people need to literally survive. Austinites deserve better. The Council and the public need answers. We need to understand where our systems fell short and how they were so vulnerable.

In advance of our Austin Water Oversight Committee meeting scheduled for Wednesday, I would like to share some of the questions I consider to be the most vital and fundamental to advance our work to ensure something like this never happens again to our water system. This list is meant to be a place to start and not an exhaustive list, and does not include the many questions I have for Austin Energy and other departments.

Ullrich Plant: It seems that the shutting down of the Ullrich plant was a trigger for the larger water system problems. At this point, what do we know about why the plant went offline? Why did power to the plant fail? What redundant power sources were in place and how did they perform or fail to perform? Beyond power loss, what other factors contributed to Ullrich going offline? When did Austin Water first suspect the plant was in danger? In what ways are our water and power systems linked?

Timeline: As we move forward, we will need to do a deep dive into how we have and should factor climate change into our infrastructure planning and forecasts. To do so we must understand how our systems are prepared to forecast the impacts of these severe weather events. To begin this conversation, I would ask Austin Water to detail for us at what point the utility first began to consider that the weather events would lead to the challenges we eventually faced and to provide the timeline associated with the various decision points. As soon as possible we need a visual timeline of events showing water use at various points in the week that includes at a minimum the point at which Austin Water:

***Determined we were experiencing challenges that would lead to a South Austin boil water notice
***Notified the public about the South Austin boil water notice
***Determined we were experiencing challenges that would lead to a citywide boil water notice
***Notified the public about the citywide boil water notice
***Determined we were experiencing challenges that would lead to parts of the city losing water
***Determined we were experiencing challenges that would lead to the majority of the city losing water or experiencing very low water pressure

Causality: How much of this recent water depressurization and other issues was caused by line breaks vs. overuse? How would we go about determining how much water loss was caused by leakage from broken pipes in buildings vs. breaks in Austin Water infrastructure?
Emergency Preparedness: There also clearly are a host of questions we need to ask about our emergency preparedness with respect to getting water to people when no one has it.

Finally, I believe we must acknowledge that this most recent water crisis comes on the heels of several others - the 2018 turbidity event and boil water notice, zebra mussels, harmful algae blooms, and the fire retardant incident. With all five events in mind, we need to reexamine the weaknesses in our water system and chart ways to improve its resilience in the face of climate change. I look forward to a robust discussion starting next week.

Alison Alter
Council Member, District 10
Ann Kitchen
Posts: 236
Joined: Fri Jan 09, 2015 4:04 pm

Re: Questions for Austin Water Oversight Meeting

Post by Ann Kitchen »


Thanks so much - we will incorporate these questions into the agenda for the meeting next Wednesday. The plan is to post a more detailed agenda on Tuesday.

I encourage all to post any particular questions and issues you would like to see addressed for Wednesday.

Ann Kitchen
City Council D5
Ann Kitchen
Council Member District 5
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