Two dozen area schools and more than 100,000 area residents began the week under a boil-water notice in the wake of heavy rainfall and flooding.
Though rainfall had slacked to a series of sporadic showers by Monday, the effects of the previous week’s heavy rainfalls and resulting flooding were still top-of-mind for city, county and state government officials.
Early Monday morning, the City of Austin issued a city-wide boil water notice and Tuesday, Williamson County Judge Dan Gattis declared a county-wide disaster.
Austin’s boil water notice is reportedly a result of high levels of silt in the city's water supply as a result of flooding conditions, and officials said water treatment facilities were overwhelmed and unable to filter out the contaminants and deliver a safe water supply.
The boil water notice affects residents, businesses and schools within the boundaries of both Leander and Round Rock ISD. In his disaster declaration Wednesday, Gattis said about 80,000 Williamson County residents were under the boil water notice. An additional 25,000 residents of Travis County who attend the affecte Leander ISD schools are also impacted by the restrictions, which the Travis County Emergency Management Coordinator’s office said could last several more days.
Leander ISD’s Grandview Hills Elementary, River Place Elementary, Rutledge Elementary, Four Points Middle School and Vandegrift High School are all impacted by Austin’s boil water notice, and on Monday the district said it would cover water fountains and deliver bottled water for students and staff.
Round Rock ISD Superintendent Steve Flores sent a letter to parents explaining the district’s plans to provide safe drinking water to the 20 RRISD campuses and four other district facilities impacted by the boil water notice. Flores’ letter welcomed water donations, and asked parents to send students with refillable water bottles if possible, until the notice is lifted.
Austin Water is urging citizens to cut back their water usage until further notice following floodgate operations at Highland Lakes dams last week. Cedar Park city officials released several notices throughout the week noting that Cedar Park’s water supply was safe, and there was no boil water notice in place for customers of that city’s water services.
Residents under the notice, however, are advised to curb water usage wherever possible, including shortening shower time, stopping garden and lawn watering and holding off on dish and clothes washing.
At a press conference on Sunday, Director of Austin Water Greg Meszaros said that because of the water conditions, the company is undergoing cycle closures for their various facilities for cleaning and crews are working 24 hours a day on the effort. Due to the varying sizes of the facilities, Austin Water's capacity could be decreased by a third or even by half as they clean even just one facility.
Meszaros said the current upset to the quality of river water is “unprecedented,” and engineers employed with Austin Water for up to 40 years said they have never seen anything like this. On Tuesday, four days into the crisis and with no sign of improvement, Meszaros said the company could not estimate how long the restrictions will last,
Lake Travis, at nearly 150 percent full, is being closely watched by officials deciding whether to open more floodgates on Mansfield Dam. The Lower Colorado River Authority said if the lake level rises further, to 710 feet, it would have to consider increasing the flow of water downstream, increasing the risk of flooding along the shores of Lady Bird Lake in Austin.
“We still have some flood protection, but we have to be very vigilant about how we watch what’s coming into the system and seeing what those projections are incase we have to adjust upward," LCRA executive vice president for water John Hoffman said.
Even with just four floodgates open, the release of water is causing dangerous conditions. The city of Austin has banned recreation activities — including swimming and watercraft — on Austin's waterways, including Lady Bird Lake, Lake Austin and Lake Travis.
“Rainfall is the great wildcard in all this, because if we see rainfall out in the watershed that results in runoff into Lake Travis, then we have to reassess our operations," Hoffman added.
As of Tuesday afternoon, more scattered showers were in the short-term forecast, and the Weather Channel predicted more rain for the area next week.