Austin Water presents actions to face the next crisis

Monday, January 24, 2022 by Jo Clifton

Since last February’s winter storm, Austin Water has taken many steps, large and small, to prepare for the impact of another such emergency. Director Greg Meszaros told the city council’s Austin Water Oversight Committee last week that with the help of a Water and Wastewater Commission task force, the water utility water has prioritized its needs.

Austin Water was one of the departments that seemed to be taken completely by surprise by the Uri winter storm, and was among those facing the toughest challenges. The utility expanded its emergency management team, adding three full-time employees in the current fiscal year and an emergency plans officer to share with the Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management.

Meszaros told the committee he wanted to promise his department would be “true” to its task of following the recommendations made in the wake of the 2021 storm and the 2018 Colorado River flood. Among the “dozens of recommendations received by the utility, “I want you to know that we have faithfully executed them. They are either complete or on track. He noted that the Board will be asked to approve new contracts that will make Austin Water more resilient. in the future.

To enable it to deal with future emergencies, Austin Water has undertaken a system-wide review of its facilities. As a result, the utility completed a new electrical distribution building at the Davis Water Treatment Plant and secured a secondary power source for the pump station, according to Deputy Manager Shay Ralls Roalson.

Construction is underway at the Ullrich sewage treatment plant to replace the electrical equipment installed when the plant was built. Roalson said the original electrical equipment at South Austin Regional Wastewater Treatment Plant Substation No. 1 is also being replaced.

Roalson also updated committee members on ramping up work to complete projects such as an elevated storage tank and transmission line from Southwest Parkway, and a new 2 million gallon water storage tank for serve the Southwest B pressure area. The utility is also adding more generators to priority sewage lift stations.

Stephanie Sue, assistant director of water treatment operations, told the committee that the department has completed critical repairs and added insulation to a variety of piping and equipment. Austin Water has acquired sand, vehicle chains, boot spikes and beds as well as MREs for employees who may be required to spend days at a water or sewage treatment plant. Sue also noted that the utility is using new remote-controlled tools to inspect tanks while they’re in operation.

The department has bolstered its emergency water distribution supplies, adding major bottled water contracts as well as two drinking water trucks to its inventory.

Austin Water’s Public Information Office has created a real-time service outage map that will allow customers to see any issues occurring in their area. Utility spokesman Randi Jenkins said the utility also provided a boiling water video with updated instructions on its website. Those who might need to turn off the water at home can find practical advice on a YouTube video.

Council member Ann Kitchen, who chairs the water committee, asked how customers could get a water stop tool. Jenkins said the department has distributed more than 10,000 cold weather kits, which include the tool, and more have been ordered. Water valve shutoff tools are also usually available at any hardware store.

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