Orange County officials say water is safe, residents asked to conserve

Bottled water for the distribution sites in Orange County. Photo from Orange County.

CARRBORO, N.C. (WNCN) — Authorities in Orange County said Saturday afternoon that water is now safe for drinking and other uses, however about 250 residents are still under a boil-water order in an area where a pipe broke Friday morning.

Officials stressed Saturday that customers should limit the use because supplies are still low following the crisis that first developed Thursday when too much fluoride was pumped into a tank.

Orange County authorities said Saturday night only Durham water is now being pumped to help restore supplies after workers they restarted the Jones Ferry Road Water Treatment Plant following the fluoride problem.

“(Officials) tested samples from across the service area to ensure the water is safe for public consumption,” Orange County Health Director Colleen Bridger said in a statement on Saturday.

“All of the tests came back safe earlier this afternoon. In light of these results, Orange County Health Department is rescinding the do not use order. Restaurants and hotels are free to re-open. However, we encourage our residents to continue to practice water conservation strategies until OWASA’s storage has been replenished to normal levels.”

PREVIOUS STORY: Chapel Hill, Carrboro declare state of emergency over water shortage

Despite the all clear for nearly all areas, officials said that residents in the Foxcroft Drive area are under a boil water advisory because they are close to the water main that broke on Friday. Residents will be notified when this precaution is no longer needed, officials said.

The boil water area includes 250 residents at the Midtown 501 apartments, officials said Saturday afternoon.

“Affected customers will be receiving a notice advising them to boil water before consuming it until we can confirm that the water quality is acceptable,” said Ed Kerwin, OWASA Executive Director. “We will know by 7 a.m. Sunday morning if the boil water advisory can be rescinded.

Kerwin said the water crisis was a rare incident.

“Based on everything we know today, we don’t anticipate any future problems, but, of course, we also didn’t appreciate one of the worst water main breaks we have experienced in 40 years of service to the community,” said Kerwin.

Saturday morning residents were flocking to distribution sites for bottled water to help them through the crisis, which canceled schools Friday and even postponed a Saturday UNC Chapel Hill college basketball game.

Authorities said that 98,000 bottles of water were handed out to Orange County residents during the crisis. The water distribution site McDougle Elementary ran out of supplies in just two hours Saturday morning.

Chapel Hill Mayor Pam Hemminger and Carrboro Mayor Lydia Lavelle issued states of emergency for their towns on Friday.

On Saturday, authorities released a lengthy explanation of two incidents that combined to create the crisis.

The problems began Thursday when too much fluoride was pumped into an Orange County Water and Sewer Authority on-site tank, officials said in the statement.

“We immediately shut down water distribution from the water treatment plant, containing the fluoride overfeed at the plant,” officials said.

Orange County then began receiving water from Durham through a pipeline and called for conservation efforts.

Then, on Friday morning, a major water line broke and was not repaired until around noon.

The incident happened on the northeast side of Chapel Hill near Foxcroft Apartments, which was very close to the pipeline from  Durham.

“The main break led to a rapid and large loss of water, dropping water pressure in some areas to very low levels, and also dropping water levels in the community’s elevated water storage tanks to critically low levels,” Orange County officials said.

At 2:15 p.m. Friday, the Orange County Health Department issued a notice directing residents not to use the water.

During this incident on Friday fire protection was not affected, authorities said.

Officials managed to open a water connection with Chatham County on Friday afternoon, which helped bring in at least 200,000 more gallons per day.


By Saturday evening, all distribution points were closed and a hotline was shut down because the crisis was over.

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