TAMPA — After three days of uncertainty, the water supply for city of Tampa customers was declared safe to drink again Thursday once two rounds of testing showed no contamination.
The 9:43 a.m. order to rescind a Monday night boil-water notice beat the city’s estimates by several hours, said Brad Baird, the city’s deputy administrator for infrastructure and mobility.
Businesses and residents using their water for the first time again were advised to run their taps to help remove stagnant water from plumbing systems and bring in fresh water from water mains.
Water pressure plummeted Monday when a contractor hit a 36-inch pressurized transmission main at the David L. Tippin Water Treatment Facility on the Hillsborough River near the Rogers Park Golf Course. The breach sucked the plant’s clean, treated water supply out into the city’s streets, flooding areas such as 30th Street north of Sligh Avenue with knee-deep water.
The damage resulted in the loss of 12 million gallons of water through the plant, which produces 81 million gallons of treated drinking water a day for customers in the city and surrounding areas. The Tampa Water Department serves an estimated 717,000 people and more than 14,200 fire hydrants.
The breach happened as crews with design-build team CH2M Hill and prime subcontractor Archer Western were working to connect the 36-inch cast-iron pipe, in use since 1941, to new 48-inch and 54-inch pipelines that the city installed two years ago, Baird said.
The worker responsible for the break was shoring up the older pipeline with a pile driver when he accidentally pierced its side, Baird said.
“This particular pipeline was at the end of its useful life, but it had not failed,” he said. “We had never had a failure ever in its history.”
Crews take precautions to prevent accidents, including the use of ground-penetrating radar to mark their locations.
“But even with all of those safeguards, sometimes there’s human error. And that’s what happened in this case.”
The work is part of the $2.88 billion PIPES program approved in September to revamp the city’s infrastructure.
It will likely take two to three weeks for the city to determine the cost of damages from the pipe break. A new section of pipe had to be purchased, installed and disinfected, the old pipe had to be removed and discarded, and two sets of safety tests run on 24 water samples taken from throughout the 220-square-mile service area.
It’s unlikely that the water supply was contaminated, Mayor Jane Castor said, but customers still were asked to disinfect their tap water as a precautionary measure.
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The water plant is “ground zero for the entire city’s water treatment,” and provides drinking water to roughly 20 percent of Hillsborough County customers outside the city limits, the mayor said.
The plant draws water from the adjacent Hillsborough River, making Tampa one of the largest cities in Florida to rely on surface water rather than an underground supply.
This is the second time that problems at the plant have forced customers to boil their water.
In February 2013, a series of events including a squirrel chewing through a power line took the plant offline for 31 minutes. The city issued the boil water notice out of concern that a loss of pressure in the pipes might allow contaminants to enter the system.
The notice remained in effect for 37 hours and the cost was estimated at $29,000. Members of Tampa’s City Council at the time called the disruption “disgraceful,” “embarrassing,” and “very, very scary.”
This week’s boil-water notice lasted 77 hours.
The city will seek to recover the cost of damages from CH2M Hill, a part of giant Jacobs Engineering, as well as its insurance provider, Baird said. Businesses seeking to recoup damages because of the boil-water notice can download and submit a Citizen Claim Form on the city of Tampa’s website.
Still, Baird said he did not forsee the city severing its ties with Jacobs or its partners, all of whom are highly regarded in the industry, he said.
“So one incident would not, you know, give us reason to not use this team in the future.”
City Council member Guido Maniscalco said he would be open to having Tampa add to the pot for helping out businesses that were hurt.
“I don’t know if the city can offer some kind of credit to businesses affected,” Maniscalco said. “We know coffee shops weren’t serving; maybe the city can figure out some kind of reimbursement.”
Maniscalco praised the city’s response to the pipe break, noting that hundreds of thousands of bottles of water were quickly made available for free.
“Some things are beyond our control; we can only do so much, he said.
On Wednesday alone, the city distributed 295,248 bottles of water and 498,479 face coverings to businesses and non-profit organizations who took advantage of a “business only” site.
Restaurants and other businesses served by the Tampa Water Department may be able to recoup damages caused by this week’s boil-water notice. Those interested can file a Citizen Claim Form on the city of Tampa’s website. For more information, contact the city’s risk management office at (813) 274-5708.