A glitch in a valve system at a Detroit water treatment plant caused a drop in pressure that led to this week’s boil-water alert, water authority officials said Thursday, closed schools and has thrown cold water on sales for downtown Detroit eateries.
“Simply put, it was an equipment malfunction,” said Amanda Abukhader, a spokeswoman for the Great Lakes Water Authority, which provides water and waste water services to 126 municipalities in southeast Michigan.
And while tests indicate the water is bacteria-free, the boil alert remains through Friday.
“The test results today show us the water is safe,” Abukhader said. “Out of an abundance of caution, because public safety and health are always our first priority, we’re continuing to keep the boil-water advisory in place for at least another 24 hours until we get a second round of test results to reconfirm the water is safe.”
The authority issued a boil-water advisory on Tuesday night for residents and businesses in portions of Hamtramck, Highland Park and a large section of Detroit until about noon Friday. The affected area stretches from McNichols south to the Detroit River, and from Linwood on the west side to Connor on the east side.
The water problems cascaded from there. On Thursday, Detroit Public Schools Community District closed 30 schools through Friday due to the water advisory. School officials said the district plans to flush building water lines before school starts Monday.
Abukhader said the problem behind the boil-water advisory stems from an equipment problem at the authority’s Water Works Park Water Treatment Facility on Jefferson near McClellan. The plant can produce up to 240 million gallons of drinking water per day, according to the authority.
The system that controls valves that allow water into the authority’s network of water mains and lines failed, closing the valves and keeping treated water out, which caused pumps to shut down. The result: a drop in water pressure levels, officials said.
Abukhader said once the problem was identified it was corrected within hours.
Detroit Water and Sewerage Department spokesman Bryan Peckinpaugh said it’s unknown how many of its residents or commercial customers were affected by the boil-water advisory. The department serves about 200,000 customers in Detroit; most — about 175,000 — are residential customers, he said.
Meanwhile, downtown Detroit business owners said the boil-water alert has dampened sales.
“People are reluctant to eat out because they aren’t confident restaurateurs and businesses are following the guidelines,” said Angela Branch, general manager of WaLa, a restaurant that serves urban street food on the corner of Washington and Lafayette.
She said the water issue has added to prep time for cooking food, which isn’t good for places that serve quick meals like hers.
“It’s been slowing down my morning prep to make sure we’re following all the guidelines,” she said. “The last thing you want is for someone to get sick.”
Branch said she’s can’t wait until the boil advisory is lifted.
“We’re looking at at least another day,” she said. “I’m done with it.”