Detroit lifts boil water advisory

Holly Fournier
The Detroit News

The city of Detroit has lifted its boil water advisory after the Great Lakes Water Authority confirmed Friday that a second round of tests showed the city's water supply was not contaminated by a drop in pressure earlier this week.

City officials released a statement Friday saying customers were no longer advised to boil their water for drinking and cooking.

Detroit lifted its boil water advisory after the Great Lakes Water Authority confirmed Friday that a second round of tests showed the city's water supply was not contaminated by a drop in pressure earlier this week.

The GLWA reported before 10 a.m. that the water was safe.

"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," the authority said in a statement. "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."

The Detroit Water and Sewerage Department recommended that customers who haven't used their tap water for six hours or more should run the water until its cold and then continue to run it for two minutes before using.

The Detroit Public Schools Community District closed 29 schools Friday as a precaution during the boil water alert that affected portions of Detroit, Hamtramck and Highland Park. Hamtramck Public Schools also announced on its website that schools would be closed Friday.

Detroit closed 26 Detroit Public Schools on Thursday.

Testing revealed the water quality was not compromised when water pressure dropped Tuesday evening due to a glitch in a valve system at a Detroit water treatment plant. That drop prompted a boil water alert for residents and businesses, including Detroit areas south of McNichols, east of Linwood and west of Connor.

Hamtramck and Highland Park also were affected.

Detroit City Council members on Friday blasted water officials for what they called an "unacceptable" and slow roll-out of information about the boil water advisory.

"(The glitch) first occurred somewhere before 5 p.m. on Tuesday and I know I watched the news and I didn't see anything on the 10 'o clock news," City Council President Brenda Jones said. "That's unacceptable."

GLWA CEO Sue McCormick spoke at the meeting alongside the organization's COO Cheryl Porter. Gary Brown, director of the DWSD, also attended.

McCormick walked through the timeline of events, beginning with a 4:50 p.m. malfunction of the valve system. GLWA officials were at work by 5:07 p.m. to fix the issue and notify communities, including Detroit. It took until 7:56 p.m. for the organization to reach officials at the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, who recommended a boil water advisory.

"We don’t issue (boil water alerts) for communities," McCormick said. "We advise the local communities, and the communities issue the advisories."

The GLWA recommended that an advisory be issued in Highland Park, Hamtramck, and portions of Detroit affected by the glitch, McCormick said. Those notifications went out between 8:40 p.m. and 9:15 p.m. Tuesday, around four hours after the incident.

The DWSD announced their boil-water advisory to media outlets at 10:56 p.m. Tuesday, McCormick said.

Councilwoman Raquel Castañeda-López questioned the hour-and-a-half gap between GLWA's boil water recommendation and DWSD's decision to set the official advisory.

"(We need to look at) how you reduce that from an hour and a half to maybe five or ten minutes," she said.

Brown said the delay occurred as officials gathered information and edited an MDEQ press release template to match the incident.

"We needed to talk to GLWA" about the issue, he said. "It's GLWA that actually knows what's going on in the plant. That's the information that I need when I'm making a decision... Please understand that there's a lot of data that needs to be gathered, a lot of people who need to be talked to, before decisions can be made."

Jones opened the meeting by remarking that she had never heard of a boil water advisory during her decades in Detroit. Brown said the alerts "are not that infrequent."

"We have boil water alerts at least three or four times a year. Normally, it takes place in a residential area where you have a water main break, and a block or two will lose water pressure," he said. "The difference with this incident (is) I can't ever remember a boil water alert for the large area that we had (this week)."

Council members voiced disapproval with how well the alert was publicized.

"On Wednesday morning, I started receiving calls asking me what was going on, and I had no idea," Jones said.

Some in the group repeatedly suggested water officials notify them directly during future water crises.

"All night, every hour on the hour, I should have been getting calls updating me on what’s going on," Councilman André L. Spivey said.

Looking forward, the council welcomed water officials to return to chambers to present protocol changes to be used during future incidents. No details were given Friday, but Brown touched on general ideas.

"What we could have done better? From my perspective, we should have probably set up a hotline of some sort of all media, all businesses, schools, hospitals, everyone who was affected, so there was one point of contact," he said. "We agree that we need to coordinate closer."

Castañeda-López added that future communications should be wider spread and accessible to to residents who are illiterate, blind, hard of hearing, or do not speak English.

Councilman Gabe Leland said this week's incident amounted to a false alarm that exposed communication shortcomings.

"At the end of the day, this wasn’t the emergency that I think we all thought it was. It was almost like a test case," he said. "When it comes to general preparedness, luckily this wasn’t catastrophic."

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Twitter: @HollyPFournier