During the November 14th Board Meeting, the Lakeway Municipal Utility District (LMUD) attending board members, along with Earl Foster, General Manager and Loyd Smith, Finance/Administration Manager, recognized two employees who went above and beyond their job responsibilities to manage LMUD’s water quality levels during the recent Hill Country flooding.
Unprecedented rain fell making this past September the wettest on record in Texas history and led to disastrous flooding in October. On Monday, October 16, the City of Austin announced a Boil Water Notice due to a rapid high-level increase of debris, silt and, mud requiring additional filtration at a slower pace to effectively treat the water for consumption. When LMUD heard the announcement, they knew their customers would also be concerned, but a dedicated team had been working behind the scenes to ensure their customers’ water remained safe and plentiful.
Raf Mendoza, water supervisor, and Kyle Wilds II, water operator, had the task of ensuring the LMUD barge was secure throughout the flooding. The main LMUD barge is located near the iconic “mushroom house” in Old Lakeway off Mariner. It is LMUD’s main collection site of water from the lake. Without it, LMUD wouldn’t be able to supply drinking water to their customers.
Mendoza and Wilds got on the LMUD boat from the Lakeway Marina every hour for a 48 hour period to ensure the safety of this barge, risking their safety as they fought the current and debris even after dark.
On October 16th, lake levels began rising at an average of 2 feet per hour. The LMUD barge is tied to the shore by cables. These cables had to be let out slowly as the lake level rose since a slack cable could easily become detached from the shore with the velocity of the lake creating too much tension on them. Mendoza and Wilds got on the LMUD boat from the Lakeway Marina every hour for a 48 hour period to ensure the safety of this barge, risking their safety as they fought the current and debris even after dark. Mendoza reported, “At last check, the lake was reported to rise another 2 feet and there was only 4 feet of slack left on the cables!”
“But, we were just doing our job,” Mendoza said. “We needed to stay on top of things, monitoring the lake levels, turbidity levels, and storage tank levels. I credit the whole water department for our success in keeping LMUD customers out of a Boil Water Notice. It really took the whole department to handle this monumental situation. It could have gone real bad, real fast, but each member of our team handled the extra pressure and I was highly pleased with their level of commitment to supply safe and adequate supply of drinking water to LMUD customers.”
Mendoza and his team were constantly monitoring the forecast and lake levels on the LCRA website throughout the flood. As the rain fell in the upper Highland Lakes and as more and more damns were opened leading to the rapid increase in waterflow downstream into Lake Travis, Mendoza and his team were staying prepared. Their first line of action was to fill up all of the water storage facilities in case the barge was shut down. To combat the high turbid water, filtration was slowed down from about 3,000 gallons a minute to 1,000 gallons a minute. The backup plant, Plant A, was tested and ready to be utilized as the need arose.
The entire LMUD team holds all those affected by the flood in their hearts and is thankful for every one of the responders who came to the aid of our community. Foster said, “It’s crisis times like these where our community really comes together. We were thankful to be able to stay on top of a monumental situation, but the loss so many people faced is devastating and eye-opening. We are continuing to assess what we could have done differently and will help our customers however we can.”