Austin Water taking on audit proposals
AUSTIN WATER ACTIONS
Most changes at Austin Water proposed in a January audit are complete or in the works.
Example recommendation: Incorporate new training positions and make training consistent for all staff. Result: Trainer positions are filled; a new training program was launched in February. Example recommendation: Identify and find solutions for scenarios that would challenge water quality and treatment ops. Result: Emergency response planning is underway and will be complete in October. Example recommendation: Confirm how AW responds to emergencies and take on related analyses. Result: Reviews are underway, and major facilities will be stress tested this summer. Example recommendation: Have Austin Water report directly to the city manager. Result: AW and city leaders do not agree; AW reports to interim Assistant City Manager Robert Goode.
BY BEN THOMPSON
Austin Water is progressing on the recommended fixes laid out in a third-party review following a series of high-profile water quality incidents. City Council directed an external evaluation of Austin Water in 2022 in the wake of the February citywide boil-water notice. The University of Texas Center for Water and the Environment took on the review, released in January, for about $816,000. The review found AW has solid infrastructure and generally produces safe drinking water for the city, but also had staffing, management and operations issues to address. City leaders were most recently briefed on the evaluation and dozens of fixes pro- posed by UT during a March 29 committee meeting. Austin Water Director Shay Ralls Roalson, who took the helm at the water utility in January, said AW has already finished responding to 14 of UT’s 53 proposals with most of the remainder now in the works. AW did not agree with four proposals covering the utility’s reporting structure and human resources work, and does not plan to address those.
12 PLANNED 4 NOT TAKING PLACE
53 TOTAL PROPOSALS
SOURCE: CITY OF AUSTIN/COMMUNITY IMPACT
“We are more robust and resilient than we have ever been, but we are also facing threats that we’ve never seen in our history. Implementing the recommendations from this report will make Austin Water stronger and better positioned to face climate change and extreme weather events,” Roalson said in a statement. The key issue of staffing remains a priority for AW as the utility’s vacancy rate sits around 13%. To address the staffing shortfall, most of AW’s 200 vacant positions have either been filled or posted for interested applicants. Roalson said AW’s recruitment push is now going “very well.” So far, AW’s response to the audit earned a
positive response from council members overseeing the process. “You clearly are taking this review and the charge that we’ve given you as a council seriously, and demonstrated a lot of forward movement,” District 10 Council Member Alison Alter told Roalson during the March 29 meeting.
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