'Tens of thousands' still without water service in Austin
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Tens of thousands of Austin residents remained without water service Thursday as city officials struggled to restore basic services amid cascading crises wrought by the extended freeze.
Austin Water Director Greg Meszaros said it was unclear exactly how many Austinites were still without water service but said it was "many tens of thousands."
"It is a large portion of our customer base," Meszaros said of those without water service Thursday.
"Tens of thousands" of leaks in the system have wreaked havoc on Austin's water supply, Meszaros said. That has been compounded by an untold number of burst pipes in homes.
Tuesday night and Wednesday morning, Austin Water saw 325 million gallons leak out of the system. Austinites typically use about 100 million gallons a day.
"That is an incredible amount of water and nothing I've ever seen before at that rate," Meszaros said, "So that's what we're managing is to not return to that state of affairs, where 100 million gallons of water could leak out of our system in one night."
It means Austin Water will need to methodically restart portions of the system to prevent leaks.
"It's going to be a multi-day process to restore pressure and service and then clear the system for use," Meszaros said "It's really difficult to give precise timelines for portions of our section of our system. We don't know what we don't know. And we don't know where leaks are. We don't know how bad those leaks are going to be and we don't know how long some of them are going to take to fix."
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Austin remained under a citywide boil water notice Thursday after a power outage shut down the Austin's largest water treatment facility late Wednesday. Austin Water officials had the plant up and running Thursday, but they were still struggling to restore service throughout the region, they said.
"Austin Water's treatment plants are operating in a stable mode at this time, but we are facing significant challenges to restore water distribution throughout the system," Austin Water said in a tweet. "The citywide boil water notice continues, and all customers are asked to boil water for drinking and cooking."
Austin Water said 250% more water was used Wednesday than on a typical day. Broken water mains, burst pipes and dripping faucets were the main contributors to the surge, the utility said.
Meszaros said usage had dipped to a point that water reservoirs were now being refilled.
The Austin boil water notice came as widespread power outages have had a major toll on the state's local water utilities. On Wednesday, Texas Commission on Environmental Quality Executive Director Toby Baker said about 7 million Texans were under boil water notices and more than 260,000 were without water, adding further danger to what has already been a deadly weather event.
The effect has been felt acutely in the city, where a loss in water pressure forced evacuations at St. David's South Austin Medical Center late Wednesday.
But it has not been isolated to Austin. Hutto also was under a boil water notice, according to Manville Water Supply Corp.
Pflugerville's water service went out Monday, but has since been restored. A boil water notice remained in effect there Thursday. Manor saw a water outage on Wednesday. It was unclear if service had been restored.
In western Travis County, Water Districts 10 and 17, which serve parts of Bee Cave, Lakeway and West Lake Hills remained under a boil water advisory as well at press time.
In Round Rock, residents have not had to boil water. However, city officials have been working to dispel false rumors that residents might lose water service.
The boil water advisories could stay in effect for days. To cancel a boil water notice, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality must test water to determine it is safe for drinking. Those tests, and the staff to conduct them, will be in high demand and short supply as water service is restored across the state, said Baker, the head of TCEQ.
While under a boil water notice, all water should be brought to a vigorous rolling boil for at least two minutes before being used for drinking or cooking.
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