Tap water safe to drink again; search for answers begins in earnest

By 
Jim O'Sullivan, State House News Service
May. 4, 2010

About 2 million residents in metropolitan Boston – in every municipality except Saugus – received the go-ahead early Tuesday morning to drink their tap water after clearing their pipes, three days after a major pipe breach disrupted operations and raised questions about the stability of the state’s infrastructure.
Gov. Deval Patrick’s office announced at 4 a.m. that nearly all cities and towns in the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority were cleared to use water “for all purposes.”
Officials said that over 800 water samples at 482 locations had turned up “no contamination that could threaten public health.” Residents were warned to ensure water cleanliness by running tap water until it felt cold, a minute or more, and to clear hot water by turning on all faucets for a minimum of 15 minutes for typical 40-gallon tanks and 30 minutes for 80-gallon tanks.
“We are confident that water quality has been restored,” Patrick said during a 6:45 a.m. press conference at MWRA headquarters.
Thirty communities around Boston were plunged into unfamiliar territory Saturday, when a 120-inch-diameter pipe connecting two major aqueducts in Weston ruptured, shooting over 8 million gallons per hour into the Charles River and forcing officials to activate water reserves that had not been fully treated, to maintain water pressure. The pipes carry water toward Boston from the Quabbin and Wachusett reservoirs.
The problem started when a pipe coupling gave way Saturday morning, a breach whose cause officials said Tuesday they were still working to pinpoint. MWRA Commissioner Frederick Laskey said Tuesday he expected the State Police dive team to attempt to retrieve the material swept into the Charles after the rupture.
“If there is some party that needs to be held accountable, you better believe they will be held accountable,” Patrick said.
Saugus remained under the boil-water order, pending results of tests expected Tuesday morning.
The pipe that officials repaired late Sunday linked the city tunnel with the metrowest tunnel. Massachusetts Water Resources Authority officials in the hours after Saturday's accident confirmed to the News Service that the authority was only about a quarter of the way into a $50 million contract executed last year to repair the Hultman Tunnel, which served eastern Massachusetts before construction of the new metrowest tunnel, which began operations in 2003.
The new tunnel was built largely due to concerns with the Hultman and water officials have long hoped that two operations tunnels would give them "redundancy" in case of the type of catastrophe that occurred on Saturday.
“If there is fault to be found, we will find it, and we will hold those responsible accountable,” Patrick said Tuesday.
He said the state would work to build up redundancy.
President Barack Obama on Monday signed a disaster declaration for Massachusetts due to the pipe rupture, a move the state's Washington delegation hailed as timely and key to qualifying the state for emergency federal funds.
Patrick’s office issued a number of precautions for water use. Refrigerator water dispensers should be flushed by at least a quart of water. Dishwashers, after hot water pipes and water heaters have been cleared, should be run through once on empty. Humidifiers and other devices should be emptied and rinsed.
Food and baby formula prepared during the boil order should be discarded. Automatic ice dispensers should be emptied, along with ice made during an additional 24-hour period.
Officials warned of low water pressure and discolored water, calling them expected results and not health risks.
Patrick said he was “obviously frustrated” by the incident, calling it “very, very frustrating,” but “relieved” with the restoration.