Water main break repairs underway

Stephanie Steinberg, and Sarah Rahal
The Detroit News

A broken water main that prompted a run on bottled water, closed schools and businesses and forced hospitals to relocate patients may take days to fix, officials say.

The break left 11 Oakland County communities without drinkable water.

The Great Lakes Water Authority, which manages the water system, issued a boil-water alert for the impacted area, which includes: Commerce Township, Farmington Hills, Novi, Rochester Hills, Walled Lake, West Bloomfield Township, Bloomfield Township, Keego Harbor, Orchard Lake and Wixom as well as the Hills of Oakland and Kings Pointe subdivisions in Oakland Township.

On Wednesday, officials with the regional water authority said the new piece of pipe that will be used to fix the broken water main has arrived at the scene of the break and repairs are expected to begin immediately.

What to do during a boil water alert

The cause was a drop in water pressure related to the failure of a 48-inch diameter water transmission pipe on 14 Mile between Farmington and Drake in Farmington Hills, officials said Tuesday.

The alert affects 304,970 Oakland County residents, the authority said Tuesday. Of those, 51,380 had no water at all.

Officials expect the boil advisory to be lifted by the end of Friday, but some areas, such as West Bloomfield Township and Bloomfield Township, could see relief by Wednesday.

“This is the largest number and community affected we’ve had. The number is unprecedented,” water authority CEO Sue McCormick said.

She apologized for the impact of the break and said the authority is “working around the clock to get service restored as soon as we can.”

On Wednesday, officals with the regional water authority said the new piece of pipe that will be used to fix the broken water main has arrived at the scene of the break and repairs are expected to begin immediately.

New pipe on way as communities cope

At Henry Ford Hospital in West Bloomfield Township, 15 patients in critical condition were moved to Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit. Robert Riney, executive vice president and chief operating officer at Henry Ford Health System, said scheduled C-sections were rerouted to other hospitals and all elective surgeries were canceled for Tuesday and Wednesday.

“We’ll take it day-by-day after that depending on the word we get on the water main,” Riney said.

At the Kroger on Grand River in Novi, a large sign stating “Sorry, We Are Out of Water” greeted customers on Tuesday.

He said the hospital is continuing to run with a “full house” of medical and surgical patients and is operating on “boiled water status.”

“It’s something that we’re prepared to do. It means we truck in sanitized water to take care of our needs,” he said.

The Providence Park Hospital in Novi also canceled elective surgeries Tuesday and moved four patients on dialysis to its sister hospital in Southfield, said Margaret Klobucar, chief operating officer and vice president of operations.

“We have a whole emergency preparedness committee, and they spend their time making sure events like this are well orchestrated,” Klobucar said.

Whether surgeries will be scheduled Wednesday depends on if the water pressure returns and the hospital can access additional water, she said.

At the Kroger on Grand River in Novi, a large, lime-green sign stating “Sorry, We Are Out of Water” greeted customers at the entrance.

Robert Riney, executive vice president and chief operating officer at Henry Ford Health System, discussed water issues faced at the Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital on Tuesday.

By 11:30 a.m. Tuesday, the bottled water shelves were empty save for a few bottles of Ionic Sport Water and another apology sign taped to the bare shelves.

Passing through the empty aisle, Novi resident Dale Kind, 60, said he wasn’t surprised by the run on bottled water. He wasn’t worried; he’ll just boil water as advised.

Kind said he found out about the water issue when he went to the gym at 8 a.m. While biking, a staff member told him he had to leave.

“Because there were no bathrooms, no showers, they had to close,” he said.

Residents must bring all water to a boil for at least one minute before using. Boiled, bottled or disinfected water should be used for drinking, making ice, washing dishes, brushing teeth and preparing food until further notice.

The water authority says it’s working with community water departments to isolate water systems from the damaged portion of main in order to begin repairs. Officials say they expect to have a replacement piece of pipe installed by Wednesday night and water quality tests will take place afterward.

The GLWA has isolated the leak in the transmission main that serves customers in the western portions of Oakland County. Officials say they are still investigating what caused the main break, which occurred around 5 p.m. Monday, GLWA Chief Operating Officer Cheryl Porter said.

“We are currently on-site and the new pipe is on its way from Illinois. When it arrives, we will continue with our testing,” Porter said. “We will make sure it can withstand the pressures and pass water quality testing, which typically takes 48 hours.”

The water transmission pipe that was damaged was installed in 1970, and McCormick said pipes like these are not checked for maintenance. The pipe had not been previously repaired.

The regional authority said earlier Tuesday that residents in Wixom, Walled Lake, Commerce Township as well as parts of Novi may experience low to no water pressure as repairs occur because the communities are located at the end of the transmission main and cannot be served water through another part of the system.

There were dozens of school closings Tuesday. They included the Novi Community Schools District, the Walled Lake Consolidated Schools, the West Bloomfield School District and Bloomfield Hills Schools, and some schools in the Farmington Public Schools district.

The water authority said whenever a system loses pressure, precautionary measures are recommended since the pressure loss can lead to bacterial contamination in the system. Boiling water before using will kill bacteria and other organisms.

Many of the people affected got out their pots and pans to boil water or flocked to stores to stock up on bottled water.

Busch’s Fresh Food Market said it’s stocking up on bottled water at its 17 stores, including those in Rochester Hills, West Bloomfield Township, Farmington Hills and Novi.

“Once we heard from customers that people were having a hard time finding water, we quickly tried to secure as much as we could,” said Todd Robinson, director of marketing. “We primarily have gallons of water and also cases of 24, 36 — any water we could get our hands on.”

Meanwhile, some senior citizens were concerned about how to handle a days-long boil water advisory. But at least one community group stepped forward to help.

“I am worried about boiling water. I don’t know if I can handle it,” said Molly Marcus, 81, who lives alone in All Seasons of West Bloomfield apartment. “I’m having a lot of discomfort in my arms and shoulders, and I just don’t think I could handle boiling water.”

Resting in a recliner with her 3-year-old fluffy Havanese, Baylee, her eyes lit up as Rochel Leah Eliefja and two kids knocked on the door, hands full of bottled water.

“Thank you, thank you!” Marcus smiled.

Eliefja, 26, gathered 10 volunteers from The Shul, which serves the Jewish community in West Bloomfield Township, to spend the afternoon at the retirement community and other senior citizen complexes to distribute water and help with boiling needs.

A West Bloomfield Township resident and education director at The Shul, Eliefja said her house had no water Monday night, but it came back Tuesday morning, and she got out her pots to start boiling water.

“As I was sitting there with all my pots on the stove, I was thinking I was able to do this, but not everybody is able to,” she said.

Staff writers Shawn D. Lewis, Mark Hicks, Jennifer Chambers and Charles E. Ramirez, and the Associated Press contributed.