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Austin, Texas Water Bummer

Posted in Water on October 25, 2018

Water is essential. According to the USGS, up to 60% of your body is water. Half of you are now cracking a joke about how you aren’t 60% water, you are 60% coffee—but have you ever tried making coffee without water? Thanks to indoor plumbing, all the clean, potable, water we could wish for is right at our fingertips. We sing in the shower, drink straight from the tap, wash our dishes, rinse lettuce, make baby formula, water the garden…all with clean water that magically appears on command. Clean water is something most of us take for granted. It is no more evident than this to those in Austin, Texas. Here’s what’s going on with Austin, Texas Water.

Monday morning the residents of Austin, TX woke up to find the magic disrupted by a bit of reality when Austin Water issued a boil water notice to all its customers. The warning is a reminder that our clean water comes from the world around us, and it doesn’t necessarily start clean. The notice was a precaution, and an escalation from their Saturday notice to reduce water usage. Historic flooding in the area has caused an unusual level of silt and debris in their supply lakes, and the debris is dirtying the water filters almost faster than they can filter water to clean the filter. It’s as muddy as it sounds. Today, the debris, whose muddying is officially referred to as “turbidity,” reached the legal limit for issuing a boil water notice, causing Austin Water to reiterate Monday’s notice with even stronger language.

While the debris and silt themselves aren’t harmful, they can interfere with disinfection and indicate growth of disease-causing organisms. These organisms; bacteria, viruses, and parasites, can cause symptoms such as nausea, cramps, diarrhea, and headaches. Like other diseases, they prey most on the weakest among us; the very young and the very old.

Even with this frustration and risk, Austin will recover. To cope, Austin Water just needs time and leeway to catch up. To that end, they have issued water usage restrictions, banning all but the most essential water usage so that they can maintain legally required emergency reserves and have enough clean water to rinse the overtaxed filters.

Austin Water customers may not:

  • Use water for irrigation or testing of irrigation equipment
  • Wash vehicles, including at commercial car wash facilities
  • Wash pavement or other surfaces
  • Add water to a pool or spa
  • Conduct foundation watering, or
  • Operate an ornamental fountain or pond, other than aeration necessary to support aquatic life

Oh, and you must boil water before you drink it.

So, what do you do when your magic clean water source is compromised? According to the EPA, here’s how to keep yourself and your family safe when your water can’t be trusted:

1-Bring water to a vigorous boil and leave it there for at least a minute, then let it cool before using it in food or drinks. If you live over 5,000 feet above sea level, boil for three minutes. Alternatively, use bottled water. If the grocery store has any left!

Pro tip: You can save those empty water bottles and filled them with your boiled-clean water for use later. Be sure to let the water cool completely before transferring into plastic containers.

2-If the water is cloudy, filter it through a clean cloth, paper towel, or coffee filter before boiling.

3-Boil water before using it to handwash dishes. If you dishwasher comes to at least 160˚ in the dry cycle, it should be safe. If you aren’t sure then don’t risk it.

4-For babies, breastfeed or purchase readymade formula if possible. If you cannot purchase readymade formula, use only commercially bottled water to make formula.

5-Use boiled or commercially bottled water to make ice. Discard all the ice in your automatic ice maker and turn off the ice maker until you’re given the all clear.

6-Keep your mouth closed in the shower.

7-Pets can get sick, too, so make sure you only use boiled or commercially bottled water for your animals.

If you actually drink 8 classes of water a day or have children to keep safe, these requirements may seem burdensome even if they are worth the effort to keep yourself and your family safe.  Here are a couple ideas to help put a brighter spin on the inconvenience:

1-Explorers-Once upon a time, we didn’t have water treatment plants. Of course, we didn’t have factories, highways, or automotive vehicles, either. But even before all those things, streams and wells could become fouled.  Explorers could only assume water was safe to drink—or, if they were very clever they could hide and observe animals to see if they came to drink—but on some expedition somewhere, there was one man in the group who insisted on boiling the water before drinking. And that man was the one who didn’t get sick and took care of the others. If you get that far in the story, be prepared for a few games of hospital with the littles.

2-Space, the final frontier-This is rather less educational, but still fun. For ease, much Sci Fi assumes other planets have a friendly atmosphere and drinkable drinks. But as Guy from Galaxy Quest says, “Is there air? You don’t know!” Encourage your child’s imagination, pretend you’re on an alien planet and this is just how you make prepare water there. Allow pots to be used as space helmets and this just became a fun emergency. (Be sure to boil the water before washing the pot afterwards!)

3-World Traveler-Maybe your kids are older, or you yourself are entertaining a trip overseas. This is a great time to practice skills that will keep you and your family healthier abroad. At hotels, you won’t really be able to boil water, but you can practice drinking only bottled water and keeping your mouth closed in the shower. All while imagining you’re on vacation somewhere with a beach.

4-Secret Agent-Or, if your kids are into secret agents, maybe you can pretend you’re a spy on assignment somewhere exotic. Spies keep their mouths shut in the shower and take their water bottled, no ice.

If your kids get caught up in pretending to explore the world and are obsessed with boiling water for months after the crisis is over and water is again declared safe…well…you’ve brought the magic back by creating a fun memory out of something that could have been irritating or worse.

By Abigail Cossette Ryan, Contributing Writer (Non-Lawyer)