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Tampa ends boil-water alert when tests find no contamination

TAMPA — A precautionary alert to boil water before using it, in effect for 37 hours for more than a half-million customers in and around Tampa, was lifted early Sunday when tests didn't reveal any contamination.

Issued Friday afternoon after the water treatment plant's power supply suffered a trifecta of trouble, the caution forced restaurants to find bottled water and ice, send customers to other stores or close entirely. At home, customers were warned the water might be too tainted for routine tasks like brushing teeth or washing vegetables.

The city conducted a battery of tests and announced the results about 3:30 a.m. Sunday.

"There were no tests that showed that the water supply was contaminated," Tampa Water Department Director Brad Baird said. "We're celebrating with tall glasses of tap water."

The precautionary alert was issued to 560,000 people and businesses who get city water after a rodent chewed through a power line. The plant used a second electrical feed, but when that one also shorted, it sent a surge that caused the switch for the standby power supply to catch fire and burn out.

The triple failure caused an outage at Tampa's David L. Tippin Water Treatment Facility that interrupted water pressure and service.

City crews tested 25 samples taken from different points throughout the service area. Testing began at 1:30 a.m. Saturday and took 24 hours to conclude.

The department hopes to know by the end of the week what the boil-water notice cost the city, Baird said. The department had mechanics, engineers, supervisors and others working overtime to solve the problem.

Tampa City Council Chairman Charlie Miranda said there likely will be time dedicated during next week's council meeting to talk about the alert.

"I think the 560,000 affected customers should be satisfied that the city did everything possible to get everything back online and make sure there was no additional bacteria in the water supply," Miranda said.

The department did not have to purchase extra water from Tampa Bay Water and was able to run on its storage supply when the plant was down from 1:30 to 2:30 p.m. Friday.

Besides serving the city, the Tampa Water Department also supplies water to several unincorporated areas.

"I would just like to thank all of the customers for their patience as we got things running, completed all the necessary tests and worked to fully restore water service," Baird said. "And a special thanks to all the restaurants, because it was really a hardship for them to operate without the tap water."

One restaurant, Datz in South Tampa, was prepared for another day of bagged ice and bottled water and soda. General manager Erica Hudgens said it was a pleasant surprise Sunday morning to learn of the lifted alert.

Despite the challenges and costs associated with the boil-water notice, Hudgens said the restaurant didn't lose business and came close to a record-breaking day Saturday.

"We were extremely busy, and we didn't lose any business because a lot of places were closed," Hudgens said. "Buying the water and buying the ice was pennies compared to if we had to close."

Other stores weren't so lucky.

Starbucks on S Howard Avenue was unable to serve anything Friday afternoon and Saturday that wasn't prepackaged, said barista Lucas Dawson. No coffee, no tea. The staff couldn't even run the oven because there was no water readily available to wash the utensils.

"All we could do was apologize and direct people to the closest Starbucks, which for us was in St. Pete, which some people actually did," Dawson said. "None of them were really happy, but they got their coffee and that's what matters." The store was running as normal Sunday, but it was unclear what sort of economic hit the coffee shop took.

"I don't know if it was worth it just to stay open to try to sell pastries," Dawson said. "More of it is to be able to say Starbucks won't close. Even if we don't have water, we're going to do something for our customers."

>>Fast facts

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Tampa ends boil-water alert when tests find no contamination 02/24/13 [Last modified: Sunday, February 24, 2013 10:06pm]
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