3/14/2023 Water Main Break Impacts Shoal Creek

March 21, 2023  | By Shoal Creek Conservancy

On March 14, 2023, a water main burst at the intersection of Bull Creek Road and Shoal Creek Blvd, between Hancock Drive and 2222. Potable drinking water then entered Shoal Creek at a high flow rate, which introduced chlorine and sediment into the creek.

Location of 3/14/2023 water main break at the intersection of Bull Creek Road and Shoal Creek Blvd


Chlorinated water, while safe for human consumption and contact, is toxic to fish. This resulted in the death of hundreds of fish that were found floating in the creek in the days after the spill.

The sediment caused murkiness in the water along with a bright green hue, which alerted many local property owners to the issue and quickly raised the concern of what was happening in Shoal Creek. According to Watershed Protection staff, “Since drinking water mains are under pressure, they erode the sediment and/or limestone/caliche base surrounding the water main pipe. When these fine grained materials are suspended in the water column it can cause a color tinge (in this case greenish). Depending  on the type of sediment, we have seen everything from slightly blue to chalky grey to slightly green, and the color we observed in this incident is within the range of the colors we normally see.”

Austin Water and the Watershed Protection Department responded to the break immediately. Austin Water repaired the break on the same day and added dechlorination tablets to Shoal Creek during the repair process in hopes of preventing chlorine poisoning to fish. Unfortunately, these tablets, which are made of Sodium Disulfate, did not prevent the death of hundreds of fish. The count of dead fish is not exact, but it’s estimated to be many more than 300. Homeowners along the creek reported collecting 150 dead fish from the edge of their property 5 days after the initial spill.

Local news reports covering the water line break:

Shoal Creek Conservancy spoke with Watershed Protection about Austin Water’s response to the spill. The Department said Austin Water completed all the recommended tasks in a timely manner for this kind of break. Read the Austin Watershed Protection Department’s 3/24/2023 statement regarding this incident.

Shoal Creek Conservancy will be further researching Austin Water’s leak prevention practices. Currently, the best thing to do in the future to prevent this occurrence again seems to be proactive monitoring and repairs of aging infrastructure. More information will be available on this subject in the near future.

If you ever notice pollution in Austin creeks (murky water, odd colors or smells, oily sheen, dead fish, etc), please immediately call Watershed Protection’s 24/7 Pollution Hotline, 512-974-2550.  If you see a water leak, please call Austin Water’s 24/7 dispatch line, 512-972-1000.

You can also submit photos and details to the City of Austin via the 311 app or phone line, and to Shoal Creek Conservancy via this Report Form.

Thank you to everyone who documented and communicated details of the March 14, 2023 water main break and subsequent impacts on Shoal Creek.