People and businesses in parts of Northwest and Northeast Washington should continue to boil water from their taps before drinking because it may have been contaminated, D.C. Water official officials say.
Early Friday, the utility warned that about 34,000 residences and businesses were affected. But after a midmorning news conference, it said the impacted area is now smaller.
The warning to boil water came Friday at 3:10 a.m., when the agency sent out a tweet saying residents should “boil their water for cooking and drinking until further notice” if they live in certain areas.
The agency initially said the warning applied to those who live within a large swath aross the top of the city, from midtown in the south to Military Road in the north; from Potomac Heights and Georgetown in the west to the eastern boundary of the District.
But by mid-day, officials said a revised and interactive map, narrowing the impacted areas to a band stretching from the Potomac shore, through parts of Georgetown and into Adams Morgan and Columbia Heights and then east through Edgewood and Brookland.
Customers in the remaining affected areas are advised to boil their water if they experienced low water pressure on Thursday evening. They are also advised to boil their water if they had no water after 8:30 p.m. on July 12.
If customers don’t have low water pressure and don’t live in the affected areas, they don’t need to boil their water, officials said.
Officials said they hope to lift the boil advisory possibly as early as Saturday morning.
On Twitter, D.C. Water said “there is NO CONFIRMED drinking water contamination.”
It went on, “as a precaution, we advise customers to boil water as a loss of pressure in the pipe system makes it possible for water contamination.”
At the news conference, D.C. officials said they have closed pools and spray parks located in the impacted areas. Warnings were put up at libraries not to drink from fountains. Water bottles were sent to summer schools and camp sites, officials said.
At one point Friday morning, as the warning extended into parts of downtown Washington and Georgetown, the impact on area businesses was varied. Sidwell Friends closed its campus at noon Friday because of the water issue.
On Twitter, Open City — a cafe at Washington National Cathedral on Wisconsin Avenue NW — said that due to the water advisory it was “not able to offer any water based beverage.” But it had food and bottled beverages.
A sign on the front door of Tryst — a cafe on 18th Street NW in Adams Morgan — warned customers the restaurant couldn’t serve tea or coffee. It went on, “But hey, we still have booze!”
At the National Zoo in Northwest Washington, which is in the impacted zone, officials said they are using water from a 28,000-gallon reserve water tank for its animals.
Officials said the advisory to boil the water will be lifted when they “determine the water is safe.” It was not immediately clear when that would be, but D.C. Water said in a statement that customers would “be notified immediately when the advisory is lifted.”
The problems began around 8:30 p.m. Thursday when an open valve at the Bryant Street pumping station caused a loss of pressure in parts of the distribution system for about an hour, D.C. Water said in a statement.
The utility said the pressure fell to 40 pounds per square inch from about 95 pounds per square inch. The loss of pressure made it “possible for contaminants to enter the water,” officials said.
Results from tests on water samples from area hydrants and pipes to determine any contamination will not be available until Saturday at the earliest, officials said.
The problem at the treatment plant was fixed in roughly 66 minutes and the valve pressure was restored, D.C. Water said later. Officials said they are investigating what caused the valve to open.
The advisory to boil the water is likely to be in effect for the next day or two, D.C. Water officials said.
“The drop in pressure creates a condition whereby a contaminant could enter the system,” said Pamela Mooring, a spokeswoman for D.C. Water. “When the pressure drops it creates scenario that contaminate could get in.”
The agency sent out a Twitter alert about the low pressureThursday evening and gave updates as crews worked to fix the problem. Some residents complained that the District government didn’t send out a wider, emergency alert via social media or email or the phone alert systems as the incident unfolded.
On Twitter, Polina Wells wrote, “Why wasn’t there a mass emergency text notification of this? Poorly handled communication for something this serious.”
Others wrote on social media that they weren’t as concerned at this time.
Riley Panko wrote on Twitter, “the inconvenience of having no drinkable water in just my office for ONE day definitely puts a little more perspective on the fact that Flint, Michigan has no drinkable water in their city for 4 years.”
D.C. Water officials on Friday defended their handling of the problem, saying they had to go through a “process” to assess the situation and figure out how many businesses and homes were impacted before sending alerts.
“We didn’t want to send an alarm to people who weren’t affected,” said David L. Gadis, chief executive of D.C. Water.
He added, “we did everything that was right and within our power.”
An official with the District‘s Homeland Security and Emergency Management office said they had sent out over 100,000 Twitter messages to alert area residents who are impacted of the need to boil water.
Authorities said it is safe to shower or bathe in the water but not to drink it. Even water for a coffee maker should be boiled first, because it may not reach boiling temperatures in certain coffee machines, officials said.
D.C. Water officials said that if residents with health concerns should consult a medical care professional.
One D.C. Water official said he did not remember there being such an extensive boil advisory in recent memory.
A water expert — Sridhar Vedachalam — who is the director of the Northeast-Midwest Institute in Washington and does research on safe drinking water said the recent problem is “not something to be scared of but something to be watched close.”
Vedachalam said the problem of the valve is something that is not uncommon in developed countries where pressure in the system is lost. He said the boil advisory is put in place as a precaution in case things like microbes or sediment have gotten into the system.
He said the D.C. Water situation is “nowhere close” to the issues Flint, Mich., had with its water system.
At the worst, he said, testing once it is done could show that there is E. coli or organisms and those “can easily be removed.” He said area residents should “feel at ease and follow the precautions” and watch for updates.
If there is a larger, systematic problem of water main breaks or incidents where the system loses pressure, he said that is something D.C. Water will have to investigate further, but at this point, he said, that does not seem to be the case.
Other tips were also provided on how to deal with the water problem.
Michael E. Ruane, Teo Armus, Fenit Nirappil and Reis Thebault contributed to this report.