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New leak means Oakland County boil water advisory will last through weekend

GLWA crews install new pipe at site of broken water main on Wednesday.
Great Lakes Water Authority
via Twitter
GLWA crews install new pipe at site of broken water main on Wednesday.

The mandatory boil water advisory affecting more than 300,000 Oakland County residents won’t be lifted Friday as originally planned.

The Great Lakes Water Authority says it’s made “great progress” repairing the broken water transmission main that caused system pressure drop, prompting the boil water advisory to be issued early Tuesday.

Crews installed a replacement pipe Wednesday, but GLWA now reports that another leak was discovered during pressure testing that evening. The leak has reportedly been repaired already.

“We anticipate with the main going back in service at some point today, pressures will be restored throughout the impacted area,” GLWA said in a news release.

However, the unexpected repair took time, and pressure testing will need to start over once the water starts flowing. That means the initial timeline, which had GLWA lifting the boiled water advisory by Friday, has “shifted.”

“The revised timeline is dependent on pressure and water quality testing that will begin today and continue into the weekend,” according to GLWA’s statement.

This means that residents who have been relying on boiled or bottled water will need to keep doing that for at least several more days.

GLWA CEO Sue McCormick says this is an “unprecedented” event in the regional water system’s history. In addition to putting a strain on households, it’s caused some schools, courts, and businesses to close temporarily. Hospitals in the area have had to scramble for back-up water supplies, and some have canceled elective procedures and other services until the advisory is lifted.

The root cause of the initial main break is still under investigation. The GLWA says the subsequent leak was caused during the process of sealing parts of the new and existing pipes together, but went unnoticed until water pressure was restored during testing.

The regional water authority, which emerged from Detroit’s bankruptcy process, has only been running southeast Michigan’s large water and sewer system since 2016. Officials apologized again today “for the continued inconvenience this situation is creating for the residents of the impacted communities.”

Despite the overall delay, two affected communities expect to lift the boil water advisory locally today. Once the main break area was isolated, GLWA could start re-routing water and restore water pressure to some areas.

Rochester Hills and Oakland Township were two cities that had pressure restored early, meaning they could start system flushing and water quality testing on their own. Depending on their location within the larger water system, some other cities could do the same before the GLWA lifts the advisory altogether.

But Oakland County's Health Division warns that even when that happens, residents still need to take precautions. “Even after the boil water advisory has been lifted, it does not mean you can drink or use the water right away," said Oakland County health officer Leigh-Anne Stafford.

Stafford says people need to be aware that they "cannot wash fruit, vegetables, and food preparation surfaces, as well as use the ice or water from refrigerators until steps are followed to flush internal water systems and devices." And some household appliances that use water should get the same treatment (the county provides a post-advisory water safety checklist here).

About 35,000 people in Farmington Hills still have no water service at all. The GLWA says that once the incident site clears a series of tests, it can re-open the impacted water main and at least start pumping water back into that area of the city.

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.