AUSTIN — “I mean taxes are high, they’re going up, and they can’t regulate the water,” said citizen Hilda Salinas. “I don’t know what else to say.”

In the nation’s 11th largest city—where local city council members oversee the government-run water utility and spend roughly double per capita compared to Dallas or Houston—Austin officials had to again notify roughly 1 million citizens to boil their tap water before drinking.

The latest problem began Saturday morning, when city officials said human error at the city’s Ullrich Water Treatment Plant caused higher levels of turbidity, or cloudiness, in the water system. Officials closed the plant for several hours while running tests, and by evening, they issued a citywide notice that lasted until Tuesday night.

Greg Meszaros, director of Austin Water, acknowledged the crisis was probably the result of “a staff operations issue” and “how we operate the plant.”

“In the process of clarification there were oversights and errors and had some turbidity issues and the process was not stopped and attended to,” Meszaros said, adding they are currently investigating exactly what happened.

The recent incident is the third such warning in four years. Austinites had to boil the city water in 2018, when utility equipment had problems during heavy rainfalls and flooding in the nearby river system, and in 2021, when staff at the Ullrich Plant didn’t know how to turn on a backup power switch during the winter storm.

“Being able to provide safe drinking water … should not be one of the challenges we have to solve,” said Austin City Councilmember Natasha Harper-Madison. “It’s beyond frustrating to have to go through this kind of incident with this frequency.”

“In our city, we can’t have our water system be going down like this,” said Mayor Steve Adler.

However, citizens are again calling out the Democrat-run Austin City Council for their role.

“Seeking to avoid blame for yet another crisis, city leaders are blaming ‘human error,’ rather than taking responsibility for their utter failure to oversee Austin Water, demand competent leadership, or expand Austin’s water infrastructure to meet demand in a rapidly growing city,” wrote citizen activist group Save Austin Now, who’s also calling for several actions including a “thorough, independent audit of Austin Water to be completed in 90 days and released in full to the public.”

Citizens have already told the city council they’ve long needed to focus on core lifeline functions for Austinites rather than ramming through harmful political agendas.

“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 in a Facebook post during the crisis last year.

“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.”

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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