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Poway residents report discolored tap water; city checks for contamination

Poway residents were ordered to boil tap water before drinking it, and restaurants remained closed Sunday after officials became concerned over the weekend that a recent rainstorm may have contaminated the city’s water system.

Residents started reporting discolored tap water on Friday. City crews tested the water at those first locations and found it to be “well within standards,” but city officials nevertheless notified the State Water Resources Control Board.

City and state officials decided Saturday to issue a boil water order — the first in the city’s history — until more testing could be completed in the San Diego County community. The city provides water service to about 14,000 customers, which includes about 50,000 residents and about 250 bars and restaurants.

“We are taking all of the necessary steps to address this situation,” City Manager Chris Hazeltine said on the city’s website. “Restoring normal water service is our top priority.”

On Sunday, city crews determined rainwater likely infiltrated the city’s water system through a well connected to a reservoir that holds about 10 million gallons of drinkable water.

City spokeswoman Jessica Parks said divers are checking the inside of the well to ensure “everything is in its place” and inspectors are checking the reservoir’s covering, which protects the water inside from the elements.

Additionally, water samples were collected from throughout the city’s water system and were sent to an outside lab for inspection, Parks said. Technicians will be checking for chlorine residuals, an important indicator of water quality, the presence of bacteria and organisms and turbidity, or clarity.

The results will then be sent to state officials, who will determine next steps, which could include further testing. Because of this, city officials can’t estimate how long the boil order will be in place.

“If that takes one day or five days, we’re going to do what it takes to ensure our water is safe for our consumers before we lift the advisory,” Parks said.

Boiling water for at least one minute kills bacteria and other organisms that might be present in contaminated water. Until city officials can determine definitively that the water supply is safe, boiled or bottled water should be used for drinking, making ice, brushing teeth, washing dishes and preparing food.

The city began distributing free bottled water at Lake Poway on Sunday morning, and officials say they will continue to do so between 7 a.m. and 6 p.m. every day until the boil water order is lifted. Free water will also be available during those times at Poway City Hall on Civic Center Drive.

Although more than a dozen Poway Unified School District schools use the city’s water system, the campuses will remain open on Monday.

District officials plan to provide bottled water to all affected schools since water fountains will be turned off until further notice. Families were asked to pack water bottles for their students in an effort to ease demand.

Officials with the district’s Food and Nutrition Department will prepare all food items requiring water at an unaffected location. Restroom toilets can be used normally and hand sanitizer will be in all bathrooms.

The affected schools include Chaparral, Garden Road, Midland, Painted Rock, Pomerado, Tierra Bonita and Valley elementary schools as well as Meadowbrook Middle School, Twin Peaks Middle School, Abraxas High School, Poway High School and the Twin Peaks Center, which hosts the New Directions program and adult education courses.

Updated information can be found on the city’s website at poway.org. City officials encouraged residents to sign up for emergency alerts at alertsandiego.org, which will also push out updates. Information will also be available via the SD Emergency App.

Winkley writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune.




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