OTHER OPINION: Water’s always a paramount issue

By Austin American Statesman

Let’s start by reiterating that Water Treatment Plant 4 is needed infrastructure that is finally under way after an extended – and typically Austin – discourse about it.
And like Wednesday’s child in the old poem, it is full of woe. And, like Thursday’s child, it has far to go. On Thursday, the City Council will discuss signing off on millions in cost overruns to the $508 million construction budget for the plant, located on the north shore of Lake Travis.
Council members will be justified in asking sharp questions of the city manager and water utility leadership about the overruns but should recognize that administrators are cutting costs in an attempt to keep the project as close to the $508 million project as possible.
Last summer, for example, Greg Meszaros, the water utility director, told the American-Statesman’s Marty Toohey that the sale of property around the plant would reduce the overrun number by $11 million. Other cuts have either been made or are proposed.
So while some sharp questioning is in order, so is maintaining perspective.
One of the city’s operating water plants was built in 1954, and the other was built in 1969. The life expectancy of water treatment facilities is 50 years, so both are living on borrowed time.
As Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell noted in commentary published on these pages in 2011: “Austin remains one of the fastest-growing cities in the country, and our current water treatment infrastructure is indisputably incapable of servicing our certain future growth.”
Nothing has changed that basic set of facts since that piece was published last September.
Here’s something for all involved to ponder while we go through this no doubt unpleasant discussion of the overruns: While overruns are troublesome, running out of clean water would be real trouble.