AUSTIN — While Democrat-run city hall spends much of their time decreeing harmful political agendas, they also seem to severely mishandle critical functions that keep the city alive.

During last month’s historic winter storms and disastrous power outages, Austin experienced a boil water notice and water supply crisis, partially because city staff did not know how to turn on a power switch at one of the main water treatment plants.

According to a report by the Austin-American Statesman, on February 17, a tree limb fell on an electrical line leading to the Ullrich Water Treatment Plant, the city’s largest water facility that normally produces roughly half of Austin’s drinkable water.

Though the limb cut off the lights, Ullrich had a state-required backup power source and was ready to get back online to deliver to countless Austinites.

The one problem: Nobody onsite at the plant knew how to operate the 52-year-old backup gear switch.

Thus, Ullrich sat in the dark for three hours, and half of the city’s potable water production was disabled while officials waited for an Austin Energy crew to arrive and flip the lights.

Even after power was finally restored, the plant was not up to speed and fully functioning for another 10 hours. Ullrich’s water reserves were rapidly depleted, and the failure shook the whole city’s supply, causing a citywide boil water notice for several days and even evacuations at a local St. David’s hospital.

In the aftermath, city officials are still collecting answers and sorting through the exact sequence of events. According to the report, Austin Water’s Assistant Director of Operations Rick Coronado said staffers were not trained to operate the emergency power switch, while city Water and Wastewater Commission member William Moriarty said the failure could be “gross incompetence.”

“If it is true that the city failed to correctly operate the switching mechanism to engage the alternative power source, then that is gross incompetence,” Moriarty said. “We must do better.”

Additionally, even before the storm, city hall seemed to already know the plant needed upgrades. According to city documents, Ullrich is set to receive $20 million of improvements, including the backup gear switch to “ensure the plant can reliably deliver drinking water.”

But citizens, many of whom are still struggling in the wake of the disaster, are arguing the Democrat-run Austin City Council could’ve prevented this long ago by focusing on protecting core lifeline functions for Austinites rather than ramming through their harmful political agenda.

“So City of Austin leaders have promoted or implemented ideas, policies and actions like socialized housing … Green New Deal, legal public camping, defunding and dismantling the police, taxpayer funded abortion services, [and other examples]. … Yet we can’t find time to assess or audit our budget to be sure we invest in critical and basic infrastructure to ensure the health and safety of our residents?” wrote citizen Brian Talley on a Facebook post.

“Maybe it is just me, but I find it terrifying that we lost half our water treatment capacity due to a tree limb,” he continued. “Maybe, just an idea, we (media, city council, commissioners, etc.) put aside the radical activist political agenda FOREVER and focus on core city services? Novel idea.”

“The amazing thing … is that it was [Austin Water’s] Assistant Director of Operations that openly admitted this problem and shortfall. This HAS to be a direct violation of Local Government Emergency Management procedures,” commented one citizen on Talley’s post, adding that the mayor and city council should regularly audit and review the city’s core functions to protect the citizens.

“But it’s clear that this Mayor and City Council have been focusing on other things that THEY feel are a much higher priority than making sure that [city] critical services (like water and power) are able to deal with a critical emergency like this one,” he concluded. “This level of negligence sure seems ripe and justified for legal action to be taken here.”

The water crisis and power switch debacle comes after city officials did not activate their $1 billion biomass power plant during the winter storm, a facility that could’ve powered more than 20,000 homes.

Two of the city’s utility oversight committees are set to meet this week, potentially giving citizens more answers on the latest disaster. Concerned Austinites may contact their city council member.

Jacob Asmussen

Jacob Asmussen is a Senior Journalist for Texas Scorecard. He attended the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor and in 2017 earned a double major in public relations and piano performance.

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