A boil-water advisory is not the same as a full-scale water crisis

This morning, the City of Detroit issued a boil-water alert that affects several customers in the city, as well as the entire cities of Hamtramck and Highland Park.

It does not affect the whole city; the advisory is contained to the square bordered by McNichols Road (Six Mile, if you’re nasty) running between Linwood and Conner avenues, and the Detroit River. Conner Avenue ends at the river; Linwood doesn’t, but the general border of 15th and 16th streets on the other side of I-94 is where Linwood would pick up if it continued through.

While boil-water advisories are a major inconvenience, they’re not anomalies. There was a boil-water advisory for another square of Detroit last summer: West Jefferson, Vernor Highway, Miller Road and Livernois Avenue. Last year, there were boil-water advisories in Eastpointe and Troy. And in New York. And in Chicagoland. And in Pittsburgh. And in Atlanta. (Really, just Google "boil water advisory" and "[city name]" and see what you get.)

Boil-water advisories, in Detroit or elsewhere, are usually triggered by equipment malfunctions in water mains. Water customers notice immediately if the pressure in their faucets are low.

Water flows through existing infrastructure. Which is why comparing the boil-water advisory to the Flint water crisis is largely overstating the issue, and doing far more harm than awareness.

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The Flint water crisis stems from the city of Flint’s emergency manager – appointed by Gov. Rick Snyder, lest we never forget this – switching the city’s water supply from the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (which pulls water from the Detroit River and Lake Huron) to the Flint River, which Flint residents knew for decades was contaminated. Contaminated water flowing through aging pipes, plus a failure to treat the dirty water as it went through these channels, is what led to widespread sickness (and, in some cases, death) in Flint.

This is far, far from what’s going on in Detroit. Detroit’s water still flows from Lake Huron and the Detroit River through DWSD pipes – though it should be noted that DWSD has been overseen by the newly created Great Lakes Water Authority since the city exited bankruptcy.

To make a comparison between a boil-water advisory (which, again, can happen literally anywhere where there are water pipes) and a major failure of judgment that will affect Flint for decades is grossly miscalculating this situation. The only comparison you could make is that Detroiters have to boil water or subsist on bottled water for two days, which is what Flint residents have had to do for years. Suggesting anything further would be incorrect.

(Similarly, if there were any kind of conspiracy to affect all of Detroit, wouldn’t the entire city be affected?)

Here is the entire press release from DWSD explaining today’s circumstances:

The Great Lakes Water Authority's (GLWA) Water Works Park Water Treatment Facility experienced an equipment malfunction Tuesday evening, February 28, 2017, that caused low water pressure in the facility's service area. The Authority has addressed that malfunction and expects that normal pressure levels should be achieved within 24 hours. As a precautionary measure, GLWA recommended that the area south of McNichols to the riverfront and Linwood east to Conner in the city of Detroit, along with the cities of Hamtramck and Highland Park, be placed under a boil water advisory.

What should I do?

DO NOT DRINK THE WATER WITHOUT BOILING IT FIRST. Bring all water to a boil, let it boil for one minute, and let it cool before using, or use bottled water. Boiled or bottled water should be used for drinking, making ice, brushing teeth, washing dishes, and food preparation until further notice. Boiling kills bacteria and other organisms in the water.

What happened? What is being done?

These precautionary actions are being taken due to the aforementioned temporary loss of water pressure in the water distribution system Tuesday evening, February 28, 2017. Whenever a water system loses pressure for any significant length of time, precautionary measures are recommended.

The GLWA and DWSD are working to get pressure restored, and water staff will be taking other remedial actions such as flushing and collecting bacteriological samples from around the system. The samples will be collected to determine that the water quality meets the state drinking water standards. The GLWA and DWSD will inform customers when tests show no bacteria and customers no longer need to boil water.

This 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.

If residents or businesses have no water service in the area defined in this advisory, please call the DWSD emergency line at 313-267-7401.

The boil water advisory map is posted at: http://www.detroitmi.gov/How-Do-I/Find/DWSD-Alerts-and-News/ArticleID/1201/DWSD-ISSUES-BOIL-WATER-ADVISORY. 

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