Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Boil orders: is there a better way?

by Alex Mazer

The repairs after Sunday's water main breaks are almost finished and the boil order has ended. But there is still concern about the current boil order alert system and outdated water infrastructure.

Mayor Paul Wiehl says most of the city's water pipes are around 80 years old and breaks are not uncommon. Most of these breaks are minor and are easy to fix but the breaks on Sunday caused more of problem.

Mayor Paul Wiehl talks about the current water system.

Mayor Wiehl says Sunday's big break on Stewart Street was caused by two splits in the pipe. Crews began repairing the break that left the surrounding areas without water for most of the day. Residents, however, were left uninformed about the break and the boil order that followed.

What is a boil order?

A boil order is put into effect when the water pressure in the pipes is too low. When this happens the water flows through the pipes at a slower rate and soaks up the harmful sediments in the pipes. The water becomes unsafe to consume and must be boiled before drinking.

The Athens City website lists several steps residents should take when a boil order goes into effect.

Current methods of notification
When a boil order is put into effect, the University alerts its students by sending out an email, but how are Athens residents made aware of this safety issue?

The city's current method of alerting the public is through the use of a boil order hotline, the city website and announcements sent to local newspapers and local broadcasters, but many times residents don't hear about the boil orders until much later in the day. Is there a quicker and more efficient way to communicate when a boil order is put into effect?

Council member Elahu Gosney says there could be a simple fix to the problem of poor communication. He says making weather resistant signs to place on street signs around the affected area could get the word out more quickly.

Athens City Council member Elahu Gosney discusses his idea for better informing the public about boil orders.

As for the current water infrastructure, Mayor Wiehl says the city cannot do more than repair each pipe as it breaks.

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