City auditor, UT working to finalize agreement to review Austin Water after February boil water notice

Morgan Severson, News Reporter

Editor’s Note: This article first appeared in the April 15, 2022 flipbook.

UT is finalizing an agreement with the city of Austin to review water operations after February marked the city’s third boil water notice in four years. Austin Water released an explanation of why the citywide boil water notice occurred in February, but the new report will include a higher level of review.

UT’s Center for Water and the Environment will finalize the agreement with City Auditor Corrie Stokes and assess the recent boil water notices. The discussion will evaluate the best practices Austin Water could implement to prevent boil water notices in the future, Stokes said.

“In a city like Austin, I think the sentiment was that we shouldn’t have this many instances of water that has to be boiled or other water quality issues,” Stokes said. “(The City Council) said, ‘We want to do an outside assessment of this.’” 

The city of Austin made a five-year interlocal agreement with UT in 2020 to allow the University and the city to do collaborative research without needing the city council’s approval each time. 

On March 30, the city’s Audit and Finance Committee directed Stokes to use the interlocal agreement to find UT researchers to help conduct the audit, Stokes said. She said the Center for Water and the Environment was a good choice to conduct the research because they have experience with water engineering studies and research.

“It felt like a way to get this project underway a little bit quicker than going through our competitive bidding process and have really great (experts) getting started sooner rather than later,” Stokes said.

Lynn Katz, the director of the Center for Water and the Environment, said since the contract with the city auditor is not finalized yet, she could not go into specific details of what researchers will be looking into at Austin Water. 

“It’s a pretty broad scope to review the water utility of the city and ensure that the city is doing the best they can to provide safe water to citizens,” Katz said.

Siddhi Patadia, a biochemistry and computer science senior, said she experienced boil water notices in Austin during her freshman and senior year.  

“I’m talking to my friends who are at different universities and they’re like, ‘Boil water notices? We’ve never had that in our four years. Is this just an Austin problem?’” Patadia said. 

During her freshman year, Patadia said dealing with a boil water notice for the first time away from home felt scary and frustrating to deal with on top of her school work. She said she hopes this audit is thorough so other students do not have to handle a boil water notice.

“I would just hope that they find the root cause and do everything in their power to solve it because I would hate for people to get sick or have problems because of the water supply,” Patadia said.