Friday, November 24, 2017
Public safety

Tampa's boil-water notice could be lifted Sunday morning


TAMPA — At Daily Eats in South Tampa, cooks used bottled water to make pancake batter. In the kitchen of Mitchell's Fish Market in West Shore, chefs used boiled water to prep vegetables for the lunch rush. And at Datz, where fountain drinks were off limits, waiters delivered soda cans and water bottles.

"It's a nightmare," said Raymond Menendez, managing owner of Daily Eats. "And all because of a rabid squirrel."

Restaurants across the city Saturday dealt with the inconvenience and added expense of the precautionary boil-water notice issued Friday afternoon to 560,000 people and businesses. The notice came, Tampa water officials said, after a rodent chewed through a power line, causing an outage at Tampa's David L. Tippin Water Treatment Facility that interrupted water service. Depending on the results of water quality testing, the city could lift the notice this morning.

City crews are testing 25 samples taken from different points throughout the city's water service area. Testing began at 1:30 a.m. Saturday and takes 24 hours to conclude. It's still unclear whether the city's water was contaminated during the power outage.

Until the notice is lifted, all residents and businesses are advised to boil for at least a minute any tap water used for drinking, cooking, washing fruits or vegetables, making ice or brushing teeth.

For restaurants, that adds up to a lot of extra time and money.

"We had to go to six or seven stores last night to get all the ice we needed," said Ben Bowman, the executive chef at Mitchell's Fish Market. The restaurant stockpiled at least 1,000 pounds of ice and hundreds of gallons of water Friday night, he said.

At Datz on S MacDill Avenue, it cost $500 or $600 to buy enough ice and bottled water to get through a day, said general manager Erica Hudgens.

"But to be closed, there would be no money coming in," she said.

A few restaurants were closed Saturday, including Maggiano's Little Italy and P.F. Chang's at WestShore Plaza. Both had been closed since Friday night.

In an e-mail, Maggiano's spokeswoman Maureen Locus said the health and safety of guests and employees is their primary concern.

"Clean, safe water is essential to that priority, which is why Maggiano's will remain closed until the boil-water advisory is lifted," Locus said.

Staying open was a priority for others.

"It has been a pain," Bowman said, "but some of these restaurants closed and I don't understand why because it is doable."

Staff at Tampa Bay Brewing Company and Malio's Prime Steakhouse in Tampa said Friday that city water employees told them the boil-water notice did not apply to them, prompting confusion.

Management at both restaurants decided against using city water anyway.

"We're taking every precaution," said Tampa Bay Brewing Company General Manager Todd Dziubek. "I personally don't think the water is contaminated, but we want to make sure our customers feel comfortable."

City Water Department director Brad Baird did not know who in his department would tell customers not to heed the boil-water notice, but reiterated that precautions are needed.

Some coffee shops, including a South Tampa Starbucks, kept their doors open but stopped serving coffee and other beverages requiring water.

At Datz, employees made coffee using percolators, which boils the water, Hudgens said.

Many restaurants, including Mitchell's Fish Market and Datz, deemed use of their dishwashers safe because of the high temperatures and chemicals involved. But other tasks, such as washing vegetables, had to be done with boiled water that had been cooled with store-bought ice, Bowman said. Most places switched from fountain drinks to bottled water and canned soda, as well.

As customers in their running clothes streamed in to Daily Eats on S Howard Avenue from the Gasparilla Distance Classic, Menendez lamented the loss of money due to the need to purchase ice and bottled water.

"It's probably about $1,000 a day," he said.

But, business operations didn't seem to be interrupted. Most customers seemed to understand why they couldn't have tea or fountain soda, Menendez said, but some got upset. "We're doing the best we can," he said, "to keep our customers happy and safe."

In the meantime, local stores appear to have met the spike in demand for bottled water. After running low Friday night, several Walmarts, Publixes, and other stores were well stocked Saturday.

Times staff writer Will Hobson contributed to this report. Shelley Rossetter can be reached at [email protected]

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