After more than twenty-four hours—a period in which businesses were forced to close early, the UNC basketball game was rescheduled and moved, and local residents were told not to drink or shower with OWASA water—most OWASA customers can drink again. But the agency is still asking its 80,000-plus customers to limit their usage as its system rebounds from a water-plant shutdown and a major water main break. (The main has been repaired, but because of the break, residents of the Apartments at Midtown 501 are being asked to boil their water before using it.)
OWASA announced this afternoon that it was rescinding the “Do Not Use” order it issued Friday morning.
“OWASA tested samples from across the service area to ensure the water is safe for public consumption,” Orange County health director Colleen Bridger says. “All of the tests came back safe earlier this afternoon. In light of these results, Orange County Health Department is rescinding the Do Not Use order. Restaurants and hotels are free to re-open. However, we encourage our residents to continue to practice water conservation strategies until OWASA’s storage has been replenished to normal levels.”
OWASA director Ed Kerwin said Midtown 501 residents should know by 7 a.m. whether the boil advisory can be lifted. In the meantime, the American Red Cross is delivering bottled water to the neighborhood.
Customers had been asked to conserve water since Thursday, when too much fluoride was accidentally added to OWASA’s water supply, forcing the agency to shut down its Jones Ferry Road water plant. The supply plummeted even further after what Kerwin called “one of the worst” water-main breaks in the agency’s forty-year history. OWASA anticipates it can have the Jones Ferry Road plant up and running today.
Kerwin said the agency is still determining what went wrong Thursday.
“We don’t know if it was an equipment failure or human error or some combination of both,” he said, adding that there are no estimates yet on the cost of the disruption, but that an after-action report on the incident would be completed and released to the public.
The outage forced Chapel Hill and Carrboro restaurants to shut down Friday and schools to dismiss early. Both Carrboro and Chapel Hill declared states of emergency.
The city of Durham, Chatham County, and the town of Hillsborough are helping meet the demand for water via tanker.
The following four water-distribution sites will stay open until 6 p.m. or as supplies last:
Hargraves Community Center
216 N. Roberson Street in Chapel Hill
Southern Community Park
1000 Sumac Road in Chapel Hill
McDougle Elementary School
890 Old Fayetteville Road in Chapel Hill
Carrboro High School
201 Rock Haven Road in Carrboro