WEU’s first-ever boil advisory lifted after lab reports negative results
By DON FLETCHER
News Staff Writer
Finally, after two full days and two partial ones of badly discolored tap water that wasn’t safe to drink, things have returned to normal for most Atmore residents.
West Escambia Utilities Manager Kenny Smith announced shortly after midday Monday (February 13) the lifting of a boil water advisory that had been in place since Friday afternoon, although some residents might still have water that is tinted red, yellow, brown or even black.
“The boil water advisory that was in effect has been lifted,” Smith said. “If anybody still has discolored water, they need to call us [at 251-368-2207] and let us know about it.”
The rare precautionary measure was implemented after a private contractor bored through the water main beneath the intersection of Trammell and Howard streets while clearing the way for fiber optic cable.
The puncture drained the 300,000-gallon water tank atop the tower just a few yards from the damaged main. The liquid onrush pushed mud and other debris ahead of it as it roared through the city’s water system, invading lines that weren’t directly tied to the broken one and contaminating the water in them.
That resulted in discolored water and low water pressure for many locals, especially those who lived closest to the damaged main.
“I’ve been here [at WEU] for 32 years, and this is the first boil water advisory I remember,” Smith said. “I worked at the wastewater treatment plant for several years before becoming manager, but I don’t remember even hearing about one in Atmore until this one.”
He said WEU began flushing hydrants across the city immediately after the ruptured pipe was discovered. WEU employees pulled samples Saturday, but Smith was unable to find a lab that would open that day to test them. New samples were taken to an area testing facility around noon Sunday, and the 24-hour test was administered.
The lab notified Smith around midday Monday that the tests for contaminants were negative.
“We were at the mercy of others,” the utilities manager said Monday morning as he awaited the test results. “If this had happened during the week, instead of a weekend, we would have been OK.”
Smith praised the work of WEU employees in quickly repairing the ruptured water main and flushing hydrants across the city.
“I’m always proud of our men,” he said. “They got in there and got it fixed.”
The WEU manager also promised that the utility’s customers wouldn’t foot the bill for the repairs. He said the contractor that caused the damage would soon be receiving a detailed statement.
“They’re going to have to pay for the pipe and for the 300,000 gallons of water we lost,” he said. “They’ll also have to pay for the labor of fixing it, and I’m going to charge them the same thing I would charge anybody else for the use of our trucks and some of our equipment.”
City of Atmore officials also sent several men, vehicles and supplies to help dig and refill the gaping hole at the puncture site. Mayor Jim Staff said Tuesday the city will also take action to recoup its expenses from the contractor.