Nov 22, 2021 - News

Austin water plants prepped for sub-freezing temperatures

A truck drives up a frozen road in East Austin.

A truck drives along an icy road on Feb. 15 in East Austin. Photo: Montinique Monroe/Getty Images

Boot spikes for walking on icy surfaces, tire chains for snowy conditions and a bevy of cots and military-like, ready-to-eat meals for staff working around the clock — these are now stock-in-trade at Austin's water treatment plants.

Driving the news: Fresh from the memory of last February's winter storm and in the wake of an auditor's report excoriating the performance of city departments during the energy calamity, Austin Water is prepping for another round of potentially freezing temperatures this winter.

  • Ready for the worst, supply rooms at the treatment plants now resemble something you might see in the far reaches of Canada.
  • ​​Officials have stockpiled heaters, sand and de-icing fluid to address transportation challenges during frosty conditions.

Flashback: Temperatures dropped as low as 6℉ in Austin this February. The area also experienced 144 hours of freezing temperatures and 6.4 inches of snow, a record for consecutive days of snow on the ground.

  • Nearly 2,500 calls were made to the Austin Fire Department to report plumbing breaks.

This month, a city auditor report found Austin was unprepared to respond to Winter Storm Uri because officials had not adequately considered the risks of a severe winter storm or a widespread disaster.

  • The report also found the city's disaster planning and preparedness efforts did not ensure adequate staffing and supplies to respond effectively to Uri.

What they're saying: "Austin Water crews have worked diligently to repair damage at our water treatment plants and strengthen our readiness for the winter season," Stephanie Sue, Austin Water operations manager, said.

"These efforts began immediately following Winter Storm Uri and continue to be prioritized. We have learned from this year's event and have taken action to be ready for future extreme weather," Sue added.

Our thought bubble: Officials are keen to show they're doing everything they can to address conditions they hope never to see again.


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