A large water main break in Northwest DC early Saturday morning has led to a boil water advisory being issued for over 60,000 residents and businesses in the area. The advisory was put in place due to a drop in water pressure that could allow contaminants to enter the system.
Water Main Break Cause Still Under Investigation
At approximately 4:15 AM on Saturday January 19th, DC Fire and EMS responded to reports of a significant water main break in the 5100 block of Connecticut Avenue NW. The 30-inch transmission main ruptured, sending water rushing onto the streets and impacting water pressure for a large section of upper Northwest DC.
While the cause is still under investigation, age and weather conditions likely played a role.
“This water main was installed sometime in the 1930’s making it over 90 years old,” said DC Water spokesperson Vincent Morris. “While we have an aggressive pipe replacement program, there are still over 1,300 miles of water pipes in the District that are over 90 years old and vulnerable to breaks, especially in extreme cold temperatures like we had last night”
Temperatures dipped below 20 degrees Farenheit Friday night into Saturday morning. The ground may have shifted under these frigid conditions, placing extra strain on the aging pipes.
Boil Water Advisory in Place as Precaution
In order to protect public health during water pressure problems, it is standard procedure to issue a boil water advisory. The advisory impacts all residents and businesses in the shaded area on the map below:
While water pressure has been restored for most customers at this point, the advisory will remain in effect for at least 72 hours per CDC guidelines. Residents should bring water used for consumption to a rapid rolling boil for 1 minute before use until the advisory is lifted. This includes water used for drinking, preparing food, making ice, washing fruits and vegetables, and brushing teeth.
“We apologize for the significant inconvenience but this precaution is necessary to protect our customers from potential contaminants,” said DC Water CEO David Gadis.
Ongoing Repairs and Support Services Available
Emergency crews have installed a temporary bypass to restore water pressure while repairs to the ruptured main are completed. Work is estimated to continue for the next several days.
DC Water is coordinating with the Washington DC Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency (HSEMA) to provide support services for impacted residents and businesses during the advisory. Information about water distribution site locations will be shared once details are finalized.
Customers with concerns can contact DC Water’s Command Center 24 hours a day at 202-612-3400 for more information and assistance.
Timeline Uncertain But Extended Advisory Expected
At a late morning press conference on Saturday, HSEMA Director Jennifer Strahan explained that it is too soon to know exactly how long the boil water advisory will remain active but customers should prepare for an extended timeline:
“While the water distribution system has stabilized, there are a number of safety tests required before we can officially rescind the advisory,” she said. “Additional sampling and analysis by both DC Water and the DC Health Department will take a minimum of 72 hours per CDC requirements. The repairs are also very weather dependent – freezing temperatures will severely slow the work.”
There have been previous incidents where boil water advisories in the District lasted as long as 5-7 days after major water main breaks.
When pressed on whether she expects this current advisory to last more or less time, Director Strahan admitted “residents should be prepared for the possibility this could go 5 days or longer.”
Previous Boil Water Advisory in 2018 Impacted Over 2,000
DC Water does deal with a high number of water main breaks every year (over 400 in 2022 alone) but it is relatively rare for them to require boil water advisories. Since over 60,000 customers are impacted, this incident is reminiscent of a major one in March 2018.
That previous advisory impacted over 2,100 residents and businesses in the Bloomingdale, LeDroit Park, and Howard University areas of Northwest DC. It lasted nearly a week after testing confirmed the presence of potentially hazardous bacteria including E. Coli in some samples.
Fortunately there is no evidence currently that any contamination has entered the system on this occasion. By instituting the precautionary advisory now, authorities can prevent any illness should breaches be detected during analysis.
What Should Impacted Residents and Businesses Do?
Boil Tap Water: Bring your tap water to a rolling boil for 1 minute prior to use for drinking, cooking, making ice, preparing baby formula, washing fruits/vegetables, and brushing teeth. Bottled water is safe to drink without boiling as an alternative.
Plan Ahead: Stock up on bottled water to get through at least the initial 72 hour advisory period. Also plan to boil water needed for pets.
Use Caution If Immunocompromised: Those with weakened immune systems should use bottled or boiled water for the duration of the advisory. Also throw out ice made since the advisory was issued.
Contact Support If Needed: Reach out to HSEMA customer support, shared community resources locations (once identified), and your personal healthcare provider as necessary throughout advisory.
Residents and businesses in the boil water advisory area should follow these steps until official notification that all health and safety testing has cleared and the advisory is rescinded. Estimates currently point to late in the week at the earliest based on prior long duration incidents. DC Water and HSEMA also suggest concerned individuals sign up for critical emergency alerts in order to receive timely updates on the situation.
That covers the key details available at this time on the NW DC boil water advisory resulting from the early Saturday morning water main break. We will continue to monitor the developing situation and provide updates if the expected duration or severity changes.
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