Austin Water Special Called Request

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Paige Ellis
Posts: 75
Joined: Mon Jan 14, 2019 4:37 pm

Austin Water Special Called Request

Post by Paige Ellis »

Colleagues -

I have conferred with CM Harper-Madison, and we are requesting a Special Called to be scheduled as soon as possible on the subject on Austin Water infrastructure. We would like to know more about how we got under this boil water notice, and how we can prevent another one in the future. We will coordinate with the City Manager's office and the City Clerk to schedule it.

Thank you,
Paige Ellis
Mayor Pro Tem Paige Ellis
City Council District 8
Natasha Harper-Madison
Posts: 57
Joined: Tue Jan 15, 2019 12:52 pm

Re: Austin Water Special Called Request

Post by Natasha Harper-Madison »

Thank you for your leadership CM Ellis. We definitely have an obligation to respond to our constituents in this immediate and subsequent recognition of our infrastructural concerns. I follow your lead in requesting additional information from the subject matter experts.

Regards,
NHM
Natasha Harper-Madison
Council Member District 1
Alison Alter
Posts: 187
Joined: Fri Jan 13, 2017 3:52 pm

Re: Austin Water Special Called Request

Post by Alison Alter »

Thank you, CMs Ellis and Harper-Madison, for posting this request to the message board. I agree that we need open and transparent communications related to what led to this boil water notice. A special called meeting is one important mechanism for achieving greater clarity on what happened, and what can be done to prevent further issues, strengthen our infrastructure, and improve our emergency response.

I just spoke with the law department and under the Texas Open Meeting Act (TOMA) we are required to provide 72 hours posting notice and so with a Monday posting I would suggest we aim for a focused Thursday morning meeting.

In the meantime, it is my hope and expectation that Austin Water, the City Manager’s office, and the Homeland Security Emergency Management Department together will provide more timely and useful updates so our residents can plan appropriately for their needs, anticipate the time frame for restoring normal water service, and better understand why yet again they need to boil their water. And most of all, I expect normal water service to be restored very soon.

Regards,
Alison Alter
Council Member, District 10
Ann Kitchen
Posts: 294
Joined: Fri Jan 09, 2015 4:04 pm

Re: Austin Water Special Called Request

Post by Ann Kitchen »

All

I am interested in understanding exactly what happened - which is necessary for the public and for the Council. And what of course is most important is taking action to address any failures.

I would like to make sure that the information is available at the time that we have a special called meeting and so I am not certain if Thursday is the appropriate time.

I would ask that we schedule a special called meeting as soon as possible, but when we can have sufficient information about what occurred and what action is being taken to address it.

My focus right now is making sure that the public is served and that those who need help accessing water are receiving that help. I appreciate staff's quick action to both notify the public, make distribution of water available, and set up the process for individuals to ask for help with water.

Best
Ann Kitchen
City Council D5
Ann Kitchen
Council Member District 5
Leslie Pool
Posts: 214
Joined: Mon Jan 12, 2015 3:22 pm

Re: Austin Water Special Called Request

Post by Leslie Pool »

All, I appreciate the city staff's efforts to identify and address the operational error that occurred yesterday at Ullrich, and their quick action sending out notices alerting the community about the situation and setting up water distribution sites around the city. TCEQ regulations require the city to issue a precautionary boil water notice when turbidity levels exceed a certain level and I very much appreciate that this is what was done. While I’m not available for a special called meeting this week, I would like the item to be included on the agenda of the Council’s Water Utility Oversight Committee upcoming meeting.

Staff is diligently assessing what went wrong to cause the turbidity, and as soon as we have that report we’ll know what steps to take to strengthen operational protocols. Our goal is to increase resiliency throughout our City so these incidents become so rare as to disappear.

Again, my thanks to city staff who quickly got word out to our community about the precautionary boil water notice and organized water distribution sites in key areas around the city.

Best regards,

Leslie
Leslie Pool
Council Member, District 7
Steve Adler
Posts: 533
Joined: Fri Jan 16, 2015 2:12 pm

Re: Austin Water Special Called Request

Post by Steve Adler »

I understand the interest in a special session and the clerk can check council availability and the Manager can make sure he would be ready for any scheduled meeting. The Water Committee could also consider the matter.

But we need not wait the minimum of three days necessary to call such a meeting. The public needs better information now about why this happened, the steps that have to be taken to get the Water Boil removed and where we are with each of those steps (with timelines and updates with progress). I have spoken with the Manager and I understand that this is forthcoming this afternoon, and will be updated as he learns more.

We need to look at, as we always do, what went right and wrong about the response so that we always get better. The Manager should give us a timeline to get that report.

-S
Mayor
Vanessa Fuentes
Posts: 42
Joined: Tue Jan 19, 2021 9:02 am

Re: Austin Water Special Called Request

Post by Vanessa Fuentes »

The most pressing issue is supporting our vulnerable community members and restoring operations at the Ulrich Water Treatment Plant. I agree with the Mayor that the information as to what happened need not wait for a special called meeting. The Austin community needs answers and a clear sense of what transpired as quickly as possible. I will also make myself available for a special called meeting.

The next Austin Water committee meeting is on February 23. As Chair, I intend to create space for us to continue the conversation on the investigation and a top-to-bottom review of our water infrastructure. Our community deserves a reliable utility and infrastructure that will provide consistent services and I plan to further address the system failures during the Committee meeting on the 23rd. This should be an ongoing and transparent discussion.

Yours in Community,
Vanessa Fuentes
Council Member, District 2
Mackenzie Kelly
Posts: 40
Joined: Tue Jan 12, 2021 2:56 pm

Re: Austin Water Special Called Request

Post by Mackenzie Kelly »

Colleagues,

Thank you for raising this discussion. Like many Austinites, I am frustrated with the failure that occurred at Austin Water.

We need an open, transparent, and detailed discussion about what led us to an incident that left residents of Austin without safe drinking water. Still, I have concerns related to the preliminary cause identified by city leadership. It would not be appropriate for us as council members to address this concern publicly until the investigation is complete. Employees and residents of Austin deserve a proper internal investigation into what happened and one that addresses their concerns.

Appropriate action would be to meet and discuss together and take part in a briefing once the investigation at Austin Water is complete.

Warm Regards,

-mk
Council Member, District 6
Kathie Tovo
Posts: 128
Joined: Thu Oct 30, 2014 11:18 am

Re: Austin Water Special Called Request

Post by Kathie Tovo »

Apologize if this is a duplicate post - thought I'd posted yesterday, but I don't see it online.

Colleagues:
I support the request for a Special Called meeting this week if the situation has resolved and staff will not be pulled from water distribution or other responsibilities key to the emergency response.

If we do not meet this week, I would request that we schedule the topic for discussion at Tuesday's work session, even if all information is not available at that time.

In the meantime, I have heard from multiple constituents a request that AWU better explain why it was not possible to shift reliance to the other two plants (Handcox and Davis Water Treatment Plants) given that it sounds as if the problem was isolated to Ulrich. I will suggest that the City Manager incorporate that information into a future public update as soon as possible, potentially with a fuller explanation to follow at our upcoming meeting.

Kathie Tovo
Council Member District 9
Council District 9
Paige Ellis
Posts: 75
Joined: Mon Jan 14, 2019 4:37 pm

Re: Austin Water Special Called Request

Post by Paige Ellis »

Thank you for this perspective, CM Tovo.

I have spoken with the City Attorney, and we are working toward posting the Special Called meeting to be held on Tuesday Feb 15th as we are all available on days where we have Work Sessions. This timeline will provide us an opportunity to have as much information gathered as possible while still being timely. The posting is expected out this Friday.

Paige Ellis
Mayor Pro Tem Paige Ellis
City Council District 8
Paige Ellis
Posts: 75
Joined: Mon Jan 14, 2019 4:37 pm

Re: Austin Water Special Called Request

Post by Paige Ellis »

Good Afternoon, Colleagues -

As mentioned in my most previous post, the public posting of the Special Called Meeting by myself and CM Harper Madison on the boil water notice will go up tomorrow. The meeting is set for Tuesday, February 15th at 9:00 am. I suggest this meeting run similarly to the Housing meeting as the Mayor had laid out in December where we can each daylight the questions we would like answered (it would be helpful to post those here on the message board prior to the meeting so we can make the best use of our time on Tuesday). It will be posted as a discussion item.

I plan to give opening remarks and then have staff give a presentation about the timeline of events and processes for the boil notice before returning to the dais for questions.

Tuesday will not be the end of the conversation as the Austin Water Oversight Committee Chaired by CM Fuentes will also be discussing these events moving forward, and MPT Alter is bringing a resolution regarding an external audit, both of which will allow opportunity for public feedback.

Here are the questions I would like answered, and feel free to add any others that are not on this list:

1. What, if any, contaminants were found in the drinking water?
2. Are water plant staff required to have any certifications or licenses?
3. How exactly did this happen, and what is being done to avoid a similar mistake in the future?
4. Does the technology and training vary from plant to plant?
6. I know the Davis WTP is about 70 years old, Ullrich is 53 years old, but the Handcox WTP (WTP4) is less than a decade old. Should we be thinking about altering expected capacities for each?
7. Are there current redundancies in quality control designed to prevent the turbidity that led to the boil order? Can we take any immediate steps to tighten this system?
8. Are there additional technological advancements, automated systems or infrastructure improvements that could have prevented the error that led to the boil notice?
9. Were any recommendations from the winter storm after-action report the cause of the turbidity issue?
10. Please describe the conditions at Ullrich during the heavy rain and ice event in the days leading up to the boil notice? Was the plant fully staffed?
12. Are there immediate steps you can take in the next 30 days to help prevent a recurrence in the future and rebuild the trust of customers?

Thank you,
Paige Ellis
Mayor Pro Tem Paige Ellis
City Council District 8
Steve Adler
Posts: 533
Joined: Fri Jan 16, 2015 2:12 pm

Re: Austin Water Special Called Request

Post by Steve Adler »

Thank you Council Members Ellis and Harper-Madison for initiating Tuesday’s special called meeting on the water boil and for helping to frame this conversation for the community and for the Council. I look forward to this conversation, subsequent meetings with the Austin Water Committee under Chair Fuentes, and the Mayor Pro Tem and co-sponsors for teeing up the third-party review for passage on Thursday.
I support Council Member Ellis’ suggestion that we approach this similarly to our housing discussion last fall. It would be helpful if Council members could post questions for Tuesday’s special called meeting here on the message board so that we can all, including the Manager and staff, be prepared and efficient.

It is my intent to recognize Council Member Ellis first after I convene the meeting to frame the discussion. Then I would have the Manager (directly and through the Water Department staff) lay out the timeline of events, including the issuing of the water boil notice and interactions with the TCEQ.
After that, council members would suggest additional questions that need to be answered and then we’ll return to the Manager for additional answers and next steps.

Below, I’ve suggested some questions I have or have heard raised in the community in addition to those listed by Council Member Ellis:
— this is the fourth water boil in four years… They were each precipitated by different events, but are there any commonalities that we should be seeing?
— why wasn’t the water boil put into effect when we identified the problem? Did we have to wait for TCEQ? Was there any risk to the public of waiting for TCEQ?

S
Mayor
Natasha Harper-Madison
Posts: 57
Joined: Tue Jan 15, 2019 12:52 pm

Re: Austin Water Special Called Request

Post by Natasha Harper-Madison »

Afternoon Mayor, and colleagues. I very much look forward to the conversation and have, including similar to yours Steve, many questions. I believe the community (and staff) will appreciate resources being deployed to ask the bulk of our question before we hit the dais. Thank you for your leadership CM Ellis, and including me in what I hope is a very informative discussion.

Kindly,
NHM
Natasha Harper-Madison
Council Member District 1
Leslie Pool
Posts: 214
Joined: Mon Jan 12, 2015 3:22 pm

Re: Austin Water Special Called Request

Post by Leslie Pool »

all, I want to draw everyone's attention to the 11-page memo from Director Meszaros received earlier today with answers to many of the questions posed so far. This is helpful in centering our discussions going forward and I appreciate staff's quick work in responding. I look forward to our conversation on Tuesday.

Thanks to all.

Leslie
Leslie Pool
Council Member, District 7
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