Thousands Ordered to Boil Water

14,000 residents, businesses affected; restaurants close doors

Nearly 14,000 residents and businesses from Torrey Pines to Pacific Highlands Ranch were trying to cope with a "boil-water" order from county health authorities Monday.

As of Tuesday morning, that order has not been lifted. See map of area affected.

The order was issued after a major water main break in a low-lying area of the the Torrey Pines State Reserve just after 9 p.m. Sunday. It took city utility crews about five hours to restore water service through another main, but the pressure is weaker, and there are questions about the quality of the water that got into homes and businesses before the broken main was shut off.

Since the section of 24-inch, ductile iron pipe was installed 43 years ago, extensive environmental regulations have been applied to the habitat and watershed in Torrey Pines. As a result, the repair project has to be handled carefully, with input from a number of experts, so it may be two to three days before it's completed.

I the meantime, the boil-water order -- delivered via the Reverse 911 system -- remains in effect for residents and businesses in Carmel Valley, Torrey Hills, Del Mar Mesa and Pacific Highlands Ranch. It's also affecting some 150 eating establishments, including schools with food-service facilities.

For households, it means boiling water for a full minute before using it for cooking, drinking or brushing teeth. Most residents, however, will probably will turn to bottled water.

For the restaurants, it's much trickier.

Health inspectors began calling all the corporate chain outlets such as Pat & Oscars, Soup Plantation, Panda Express and Papa John's Pizza, which, out of an abundance of caution, have shut down for the duration. 

Starbucks is only selling pastries and sandwiches.   

"As a business person, you hate to see that," said Rick Ward, a district manager for Pat & Oscar's.  "But it's more important that people and the food are safe.  That's the No. 1 priority, so you've got to do that first."

It was a real disappointment to a lot of patrons looking for lunch in the impacted areas on Monday.

"What now?" asked La Jolla resident Jennifer Spangler as she waited outside Pat & Oscar's on Valley Centre Drirve to meet a girlfriend who lives in North County.  "I have to get on the phone and try to track her down. See where we go next.  Wow!"

Some of the mom & pop restaurants  have begun boiling water and stopped serving fountain drinks. Others hadn't even gotten the word as of the lunch hour today.

Some 20 inspectors are out in the shopping centers and neighborhoods to consult with the owners and answer questions.

The chain eateries are giving out discount coupons and referring customers to their other locations.

But the family run restaurants are at a greater disadvantage.

"Especially in this economy when it's hurting so bad," said Ruby Ghai, owner of Star of India Restaurant in Piazza Carmel. "We can't even afford to close for, like, one meal -- and [the boil-water order] is for three days."

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