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Some progress, but Oakland County expects to have boil water advisory until Friday

"Out of water" sign after Oakland County water main break
Tracy Samilton
Michigan Radio

The Great Lakes Water Authority says more than 300,000 Oakland County residents currently undera boil water advisoryshould expect it to last for at least another two days. That's the bad news.

Good news is, repairs are underway, hospital clinics and most schools are reopening, and water pressure has been restored to all but some 35,000 Farmington Hills residents (that's as of Wednesday afternoon.)

A 48-inch water transmission main around the Farmington Hills/West Bloomfield city boundaries broke Monday evening, setting off a mad scramble for waterand activating the county's emergency operations center.

The leak caused parts of the surrounding system to lose water pressure, leading the GLWA to issue a mandatory boil water advisory early Tuesday morning.

But the cause of the break remains a mystery for now. GLWA CEO Sue McCormick says this pipe wasn't particularly old, and had no history of problems.

Officials say a “power interruption” at a service facility around the time of the break may have “tripped the pumps” and lowered pressure, but for now that’s just a theory. GLWA says it will do a full investigation into what happened after the problem is resolved.

McCormick says the break occurred in a part of the water system that has few “redundancies,” or limited interconnections and back-up systems to re-route water flows. For that reason, she says this is probably the largest single incident in the system’s history.

“A main break of this magnitude, impacting so many customers, is really unprecedented in our system,” McCormick said. “Whether we talk about this specific area, or we talk about the magnitude of the area impacted…unprecedented.”

But GLWA says crews are working “around the clock” to fix the problem. A new replacement pipe arrived Wednesday morning, and they could have it installed by late today.

GLWA Chief Operating Officer Cheryl Porter says once it’s in place, a two-part testing protocol begins.

“One, we want to make sure that the new pipe can withstand the pressures within the system,” Porter says. “And the next will be water quality testing, which typically takes about 48 hours.”

If all goes according to plan, GLWA believes it should be able to lift the boil water advisory entirely by late Friday. The most recent update says “GLWA is tracking towards that original timeline,” but also cautions that “as the situation continues to evolve, this timeline too could change.”

Some local communities who conduct their own testing may be able to lift the boil water advisory sooner.

In the meantime, Porter says the primary goal is restoring service to some residents who are getting no water at all. Yesterday, that number stood at more than 51,000 people; by mid-day Wednesday, it was down to 35,604.

GLWA also says that while it’s “trying to restore water to as many customers as possible, we are most focused on critical facilities such as hospitals and schools.”

The water emergency closed schools in a dozen Oakland County districts Tuesday, but most re-opened today with the exception of Walled Lake Schools. Several area hospitals have had to scramble for back-up water supplies, and some have chosen to cancel procedures like elective surgeries until the boiled water advisory is lifted.

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Public in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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