Around 34,000 people were affected by the problem initially, although the actual number could be much higher because, for example, all of the residents in an apartment complex are often counted as just one customer.
The issue stemmed from a problem with the city’s water system that allowed contaminants to get into the water in the affected areas. The source was an open valve at the Bryant Street pumping station, which is situated to the east of Howard University.
After detecting a drop in water pressure at around 8:30 p.m. on Thursday evening, the emergency alert was issued at 4:35 a.m. on Friday morning. The area covered by the boil water advisory was reduced just after noon on Friday. However, a new area of land near the border with Maryland was added to the advisory.
Experts weren’t initially sure if any water had been contaminated, but they put the advisory in place as a precaution. Although the water was safe to use for bathing, customers were advised to use boiled or bottled water for purposes such as preparing food, feeding pets, drinking, making ice, brushing teeth, and preparing baby formula.
Those who accidentally ingested the water need to look out for digestive issues. One area out of 13 tested positive for contamination with total coliform bacteria, but it has since been cleared. Washington, D.C., officials also closed all of the pools, water fountains and spray parks in the areas affected, despite temperatures reaching into the 80s. Bottled water was delivered to those living in area homeless shelters.
Some residents were outraged that they only learned about the problem through the news and social media instead of being informed directly by the government or DC Water. The general manager of DC Water, David Gadis, insisted that the utility did everything it could to reach customers using methods like email and robo calls.
Washington, D.C.’s Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency warned residents of the advisory through Twitter and its Alert DC system. However, only those who sign up for these alerts will receive them, so many people simply didn’t get the word that their water was unfit for consumption.
The alert was lifted on Sunday, but residents were warned to run cold water through the taps for 10 minutes before getting back to their usual water usage.
Although this problem was reportedly caused by a valve issue, crumbling infrastructure in aging water delivery systems remains a huge problem throughout the nation. When water passes through corroding iron pipes, it can become contaminated with rust. These pipes can also rupture, allowing diseases and pollutants from the ground to get inside the water supply. Many waterborne disease outbreaks can be attributed to distribution system problems.
Across the nation, municipalities spend in excess of $50 million every year to bring residents “clean” drinking water. However, some experts say there is little point in cleaning up water but then delivering it to people using dirty pipes. The cost of replacing aging pipelines around the country in the decades to come could cost water utility companies hundreds of billions of dollars.
This is why people who care about their health avoid drinking tap water, regardless of how clean their municipality says it is. Aging infrastructure, the addition of fluoride, and possible contamination are just some of the issues that are driving people to increasingly turn to gravity water filters so they can feel confident that the water they are drinking is safe and clean.
Sources for this article include: