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Tampa water main fixed, test results clean. But city isn’t back to normal yet.

The citywide precautionary boil water notice could remain in effect until the end of the week, city officials said.
A photo posted on Twitter by the city of Tampa shows damage done to a water pipe at the city water plant by contractors working at the site.
A photo posted on Twitter by the city of Tampa shows damage done to a water pipe at the city water plant by contractors working at the site. [ City of Tampa ]
Published Dec. 9, 2020
Updated Dec. 10, 2020

TAMPA — All repairs to the damaged water main that nearly drained the city’s clean water supply were completed Wednesday and the first round of tests show no contamination in Tampa’s drinking water.

But a precautionary boil water notice is still in effect for those living and working inside the Tampa Water Department’s roughly 220-square-mile service area. The city hopes that can be lifted as early as Thursday, said deputy administrator for infrastructure and mobility Brad Baird.

However, it might take until Friday for a second round of water tests to pass muster with the city and the Florida Department of Health-Hillsborough County. Then things can get back to normal.

The city and roughly 20 percent of unincorporated Hillsborough County have been under the boil water notice since Monday afternoon after officials said a contractor struck a water transmission main at the David L. Tippin Water Treatment Facility, causing the pressurized pipe to burst. The breach sucked the plant’s clean, treated water supply out into the city’s streets, flooding some areas like N 30th Street knee-deep in drinking water north of E Sligh Avenue.

As Monday night wore on, water pressure within city limits dipped down to just over 20 percent, Castor said. That’s the legal threshold at which boil water notices must be issued.

City officials tweeted a photo of a large gash left in the 36-inch water pipe after it was struck by a pile driver operated by a worker contracted with CH2M Hill. The engineering firm did not return multiple calls or an email from the Tampa Bay Times seeking comment on Wednesday.

Crews worked through Tuesday night to replace the broken pipe, which was encased in thick concrete that had to be jackhammered away piecemeal, Baird said. Wednesday was spent disinfecting the new pipe and conducting the required testing on 24 water samples collected from “highly-populated” locations throughout the city’s service area, including nursing homes and hospitals.

But while the city reported Wednesday that the tests showed “no evidence of contamination” that doesn’t mean the boil water notice can be lifted. Technicians are legally required to conduct a second round of testing after the first was cleared by the health department, Baird said. The results from those tests should be available Thursday.

“When we have two tests that pass for all those samples, then we’ll release everybody from the boil water notice,” he said.

Until then, the city will continue handing out free bottled water to city residents and businesses from its emergency storm supply, Mayor Jane Castor said.

There has been high demand for bottled water while the water main is repaired and tested. The incident has impacted Tampa businesses and even closed Busch Gardens this week.

The Starbucks at 1600 W Kennedy Blvd. shut down and blocked its drive-through with a sandwich board. The Dunkin’ Donuts next door remained open, but a sign warned drive-through patrons that they had limited selections. The bottled water aisles in grocery stores were empty on Wednesday.

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Related: What you need to know about Tampa’s boil water notice

AdventHealth Tampa activated emergency management protocols in the hospital, where patients were given bottled water to drink and departments had access to flushable water, said spokeswoman Ashley Jeffery.

Tampa General Hospital had water delivered to its campus, said spokeswoman Ellen Fiss.

“To minimize any risk of contamination, Tampa General is not allowing patients to bathe, drink or use the city water in any way,” she said in a statement. “Patients will be supplied bottled water for their hydration needs for the duration of this boil water notice.”

Busch Gardens tweeted that it plans to reopen on Thursday.

About 60 Hillsborough County public schools were affected by the water main break, said school district spokeswoman Erin Maloney. However, students haven’t been allowed to drink from water fountains during the coronavirus pandemic. Cafeteria employees are preparing grab-and-go sandwiches instead of foods that require water for preparation.

It’s unlikely that the water supply was contaminated, Castor said, but residents are still being asked to disinfect their tap water as a precautionary measure.

The water plant is “ground zero for the entire city’s water treatment,” and also provides drinking water to roughly 20 percent of Hillsborough residences outside city limits, the mayor said. The county said those neighborhoods include Eastlake, Fairview, Herschel Heights, Pebble Creek, Palm River and Seaboard.

The plant draws water from the adjacent Hillsborough River, making Tampa one of the largest areas in Florida to rely on surface water rather than an underground supply.

Seven years ago, Tampa Water customers were ordered to boil their water for 37 hours when the plant shut down after losing power through a series of events that included a squirrel gnawing through a utility line.

To safely use tap water at home, residents should bring water to a rolling boil and hold it at boil for a minute before consuming. It’s also safe to add ⅛ of a teaspoon of bleach to each gallon of tap water and let it stand for 30 minutes before drinking. Unscented household bleach is recommended. Water purification tablets and iodine commonly sold at camping and sporting goods stores is also a safe alternative.

• • •

Here’s where to get bottled water

Businesses: The Tampa Parks and Recreation Department will hand out bottled water in bulk at Al Lopez Park, 4810 N Himes Ave. from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. or until supplies last. Business owners may request up to five cases of bottled water per location through the city’s online request form. The form must be completed prior to arrival. A Tampa-issued business license must be presented.

For face masks, a separate online form must be completed.

Residents: Can visit four free bottled water distribution sites from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. or until supplies last.

  • Himes Avenue Sports Complex: 4501 S Himes Ave.
  • MacFarlane Park: 1700 N MacDill Ave. (The site is near the basketball courts.)
  • Al Barnes Park: 2902 N 32nd St.
  • New Tampa Community Center: 17302 Commerce Park Blvd.

Residents are limited to two face coverings per person and one case of bottled water. Households with more than four members may receive an additional case of water. No ID is required.