Aug 19, 2003

Detroit Water 'Safe' to Drink

Residents are given the OK to drink and cook with water.

Resident received word on Monday that their water was restored and safe to drink again after a boil water alert was issued due to the northeastern blackout that covered parts of Michigan, Ohio and New York.

The five-day water alert applied to 126 communities that use water from the Detroit water system. The Detroit area, which boasts the world's third largest water system, water treatment plants have playing catchup. The power outage caused lower pressure and lower amounts of water to pass in the pipes, which allowed oxygen and bacteria to enter the water supplies.

The Detroit Water and Sewerage Department, Detroit's major water system, serves 4.3 million customers. The boil water alert was lifted as of Monday. However, other cities such as Cleveland were able to lift their boil water order by Saturday. New York and Toledo didn't even lose most of their water. So, many residents are wondering why it took so long.

Detroit water officials said they had to follow state regulations that require them to come back with two clean water samples within a 24-hour period. However, testing could not begin until Saturday, which was when the system was back up and running "normally." Then the first samples could be taken on Saturday, the second batch on Sunday. By Monday, the second batch revealed the water was free of bacteria. Cities such as New York rely on gravity-based systems. That and the mere size of Detroit's system make them different.

Detroit's water system needs power to keep water running at a high pressure and avoid contamination. It has generators for three of its five water plants. However, they're primarily used for emergency situations such as putting out fires. Additional backup systems would be very costly.