The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality has lifted the boil water advisory for parts of Detroit, Hamtramck, and Highland Park, saying, “Tests show no contamination in Detroit’s water supply.”
Equipment failure led to a water pressure problem at the Detroit Waterworks facility on Jefferson Avenue starting Tuesday night, February 28th, and as a precaution, MDEQ and the Great Lakes Water Authority decided to issue the boil water advisory.
Word started trickling out to various neighborhoods and businesses. Some didn’t hear about the problem until Wednesday night. Some restaurants in the affected area closed their doors. Others didn’t.
Detroit Public Schools was given the wrong information about which neighborhoods were affected, and didn’t wind up shutting down all affected schools until Friday, March 3rd, when 29 schools shut their doors.
Great Lakes Now talked with GLWA’s Chief Operating Officer Cheryl Porter, who says a malfunctioning valve closed and caused the water pressure to drop. She says GLWA officials met with MDEQ and came to the conclusion they needed to err on the side of caution by telling thousands of their customers to boil their water, even though there was no evidence the water was contaminated.
GLWA and MDEQ contacted T.V and Radio stations and sent out emails to city officials with a boil water alert that says this: “Bring all water to a boil, let it boil for one minute, and let it cool before using . . . for drinking, making ice, brushing teeth, washing dishes, and food preparation until further notice. The boil water notice shall remain in effect for the defined area until results from the sampling verify the water is safe to drink. CUSTOMERS WILL BE ADVISED WHEN THE BOIL WATER ADVISORY HAS BEEN LIFTED.”
Random Boil Water Notifications and Incorrect Maps
Some businesses stayed open and used boiled water, filtered water or bottled water. Some residents stopped using their water altogether; others boiled their water or used filters.
And some residents and businesses never heard about the boil order water at all.
The Detroit Free Press says thousands of people living downtown were caught by surprise, and that The Detroit Water and Sewerage department did not specifically identify areas where people should boil their water.
Then a revised advisory went out Wednesday morning, which is how Midtown and downtown offices, homes and hospitals were alerted they could be drinking and using contaminated water.
But to make matters worse, a map that went out with the revised boil water order was incorrect and identified the wrong affected areas.
When Detroit Public Schools found out about the boil water order, officials decided to close 25 schools on Thursday, March 2nd, and decided to close even more – a total of 29 schools – on Friday, March 3rd. DPSCD Press Secretary Chrystal Wilson
told Great Lakes Now that even when an advisory like this is lifted, the water lines will be flushed with running water prior to the start of school.”(go to the DPSCD website detroitk12.org for more information on how schools respond to boil water orders.)
Great Lakes Now has learned ultimate responsibility for alerting all affected residents and water customers is with the municipalities that distribute the water: Highland Park, Hamtramck and Detroit.
A Failure to Communicate: “I am not feeling safe”
Residents like Theresa Landrum say this incident – along with the way the Flint Water Crisis was handled – show why citizens are losing trust in the authorities charged with making sure people don’t drink contaminated water. Landrum tells Great Lakes Now there is a “failure to communicate to the public when they are in harm’s way.” She asks, “Why isn’t there some sort of mass communication and notification to tell people to stop using their water?” She suggests something like an Amber Alert, reverse 911, or even having Homeland Security get involved.
She says pregnant women and others could have been in danger when they weren’t notified immediately. She says as far as she can tell, the only way people found out their water could be in danger of becoming contaminated was by accident: if they happened to turn on their television or radio at the moment the story was on the news.
Landrum says, “I am not feeling safe.”
In addition, Landrum says she has real fears about the condition of Detroit’s infrastructure. She says even if the water comes from the treatment plant pure and clean, “What happens when the water comes through our antiquated pipes? What contaminants get in there before it reaches our faucets?” She says the public should have access to free water testing on a regular basis.
Great Lakes Now was unable to reach the Detroit Water Authority, the Highland Park Water Department or the Hamtramck Water Department. All the lines were busy.
GLWA’s Chief Operating Officer Cheryl Porter says she wants all GLWA’s customers to know: “The water quality has not been compromised.”
“The second round of test results taken by the Great Lakes Water Authority (GLWA) related to the February 28, 2017, boil water advisory have come back clear. Given that both sets of test results have proven that there was nothing wrong with the water, GLWA has made the recommendation to the impacted communities that the boil water advisory can be lifted.”