‘This one was historical.’ Much of Charlotte advised to boil water after main break

·6 min read

As thousands of homes and businesses deal with a boil advisory, Charlotte Water officials are still investigating the cause of a water main break Monday afternoon that temporarily disrupted service across the city, including the airport.

Service was restored early Tuesday, but concerns remain over water quality in the 16 affected ZIP codes.

Caution tape and cones from the City of Charlotte’s water department close off a portion of the area surrounding the site of a water main break on Tuesday, October 19, 2021 in Charlotte, NC. On Monday, water was seen gushing from this area under the bridge in the 1400 block of Remount Road.
Caution tape and cones from the City of Charlotte’s water department close off a portion of the area surrounding the site of a water main break on Tuesday, October 19, 2021 in Charlotte, NC. On Monday, water was seen gushing from this area under the bridge in the 1400 block of Remount Road.

Out of “an abundance of caution,” Charlotte Water advised customers who experienced low or no water pressure to boil water before drinking it, making ice from it and brushing teeth or washing dishes with it. The low water pressure advisory is in effect until Wednesday.

The water main broke around 5 p.m. Monday in the 1400 block of Remount Road, Charlotte Water said in a statement Monday night. That’s near Irwin Creek and Revolution Park.

Charlotte Water Director Angela Charles told reporters Tuesday the disruption was so large because the break occurred on a transmission main, which carry large volumes of water from the plant to different parts of the city.

“I have been working in this community for over 33 years, and certainly I have had my share of water main breaks,” she said. “This is one of the most serious, largest ones that we have had. This one was historical.”

Typical water lines affect smaller areas, like individual neighborhoods, she said. This transmission main is 36 inches in diameter and buried 15 feet below a creek bed, Charles said, and it was installed in 1955.

The cause of the break remains under investigation, Charles said.

“We’re not sure that age was the cause, but age can be a factor,” she said.

Charles did not have an estimate of the number of residential and commercial customers affected, in part because the low pressure issues are related to several factors, including elevation.

Those that experienced low or no pressure are asked to boil their water while crews do water quality testing. Charles said there have been no reports of illness from water customers.

Is my water safe to drink? Which areas are affected? Q&A about Charlotte main break

Crews from the N.C. Department of Transportation inspected the Remount Road bridge near the break “and determined there is no threat” to travelers, Charles said.

“It will be a difficult repair,” she said of the water line. There is no estimate for when repairs will be complete, a water department spokesman said later Tuesday.

Residents on social media expressed frustration after the break, saying the communication about who should boil water had been delayed and wasn’t clear.

One message from the city around 9:20 told affected customers they “can boil water used for human consumption.” Then, an overnight update advised those affected by low or no pressure that they should boil their water for 48 hours.

Charles, when asked about the delayed notification, said it took time to determine the size and scope of the outage, and whether the pressure drop was sufficient for an advisory. She said the department is considering how to improve electronic communication and alerts to residents.

“We are looking at the methods that we used ... to notify folks,” she said. “We feel like we responded quickly but there’s room for improvement.”

Water main break fallout

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools alerted parents that students at affected schools are receiving bottled water and “alternative food services” on Tuesday.

The affected schools are: Thomasboro Academy, Harding High, Turning Point Academy, Rama Road Elementary, Garinger High, Community House Middle, Cotswold Elementary, First Ward Elementary, University Park Creative Arts, Phillip O. Berry Academy, Tuckaseegee Elementary, West Mecklenburg High, Northwest School of the Arts, Elizabeth Lane Elementary, and Jay M. Robinson Middle.

“Learning and teaching will continue uninterrupted,” CMS said in the alert. “We would like to thank everyone for your patience.”

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Library said Allegra Westbrooks Regional, ImaginOn, Main Library, Myers Park and SouthPark Regional libraries would close until further notice because of “plumbing issues.”

At Charlotte Douglas International Airport on Monday, inbound flights to CLT were held at their originating airport, according to flight tracking site FlightAware. Travelers were told to use bathrooms “sparingly,” airport officials said.

By 7:30 p.m., aircraft operations had resumed after the Federal Aviation Administration lifted the temporary ground stop, the airport said. Just before 9 p.m., the airport said water had returned to all restrooms and cleaning was underway.

At 11:30 a.m. Tuesday, food and beverage service remained limited at the Charlotte airport, as airport officials and concessionaires worked with the Mecklenburg County Health Department to reopen restaurants, the airport said on Twitter.

By 4 p.m., most restaurants in the airport had reopened, officials said. Check which ones at CLTAirport.MediaRoom.

Some Atrium Health facilities in Charlotte experienced “the inconvenience of low water pressure,” spokesman Dan Fogleman told the Observer on Monday night. But there were no significant impacts to the hospital system facilities, he said.

The hospital system has a reserve supply of bottled water if needed, he added.

There’s been “negligible impact” at Novant Health facilities due to emergency preparedness plans, spokeswoman Megan Rivers told the Observer on Monday. The hospital system has potable water prepared if needed.

Matthews-based Harris Teeter said in an email to customers that the boil water advisory is impacting product availability at “a handful” of its stores’ meat, seafood, fresh foods and produce departments.

“As soon as the advisory is lifted, all departments will go back to operating as normal,” the emailed announcement said.

Harris Teeter officials did not respond to a request for comment.

A water main break along Remount Road near Charlotte’s airport has affected numerous residents and businesses around the city as well as those using the airport on Monday, Oct. 18, 2021.
A water main break along Remount Road near Charlotte’s airport has affected numerous residents and businesses around the city as well as those using the airport on Monday, Oct. 18, 2021.

‘All hands on deck’

Charlotte Water will continue to test water samples for several days, officials said. Customers were advised not to call 311 or 911 to report a disruption in service

ZIP codes hit by the outage include: 28105, 28202, 28203, 28205, 28206, 28207, 28208, 28209, 28211, 28212, 28213, 28214, 28215, 28216, 28217 and 28277, the city said.

The affected areas of the system are roughly bounded:

To the north by Brookshire Boulevard and Interstate 85;

To the east by W.T. Harris Boulevard and Monroe Road;

To the west by the Catawba River;

To the south by the South Carolina line.

Charlotte Water customers in the “low pressure” area of this map can boil water used for human consumption vigorously for one minute, the city department said. A water main break on Monday, Oct. 18, 2021, affected thousands of customers, including Charlotte’s airport.
Charlotte Water customers in the “low pressure” area of this map can boil water used for human consumption vigorously for one minute, the city department said. A water main break on Monday, Oct. 18, 2021, affected thousands of customers, including Charlotte’s airport.

Video on social media showed water spouting up like a geyser above treetops at the site of the leak. Responding to one of the videos. Charlotte City Council Member Tariq Bokhari tweeted, “Wow. This was insane to see. Huge impacts but all hands are on deck.”

Observer staff writers Anna Maria Della Costa, Jonathan Limehouse, Catherine Muccigrosso, Mark Price and Hannah Smoot contributed to this story.

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