Residents were directed to boil tap water and restaurants were ordered to stop all food preparation after reports of discolored water throughout the City of Poway over Thanksgiving weekend.
The City of Poway issued its first ever "Precautionary Boil Water Advisory" Saturday after residents reported "discolored water" coming from the taps on Friday, the city said. The heavy, recent rain storms may have compromised the potable drinking water system, the notice said.
A city spokesperson confirmed Monday a storm drain backed up into the water treatment facility's clearwell reservoir during last week's three-day storm.
The city is repairing the storm drain and will be draining a section of the reservoir so it can be disinfected. The water distribution system will also be flushed before it's back in service, the spokepserson said.
*12/1 - 10:54 a.m WATER UPDATE* While we are continuously monitoring Twitter for questions and comments re the @cityofpoway precautionary boil water advisory, residents can also call 858-668-4700 to speak with our Public Works staff.— City of Poway (@cityofpoway) December 1, 2019
Mayor Steve Vaus said, "Actually the water is well within our standards for drinking. I’m still drinkin’ it, but the State, they’re a little more skittish. Sacramento works in strange ways, so we’re giving out water to make sure our folks are taken care of.”
Poway provides water service to about 50,000 residents.
City leaders told NBC 7 on Saturday that crews were working around the clock to fix the water problem, and that bottled water would be given away to Poway residents at Lake Poway (14644 Lake Poway Rd.) starting at 7 a.m. Sunday.
On Monday, the city said the distribution of bottled water would continue at the Lake Poway location and a second location at City Hall from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Poway residents were told to boil their tap water as a precautionary measure or use bottled water for drinking, making ice, brushing teeth, washing dishes and making food until further notice.
Some residents told NBC 7 that local stores were swamped with people trying to buy cases of water bottles.
"It was sheer chaos, everybody had their carts just loaded with water and I expect it to get worse over the evening," said Linda Farmer, who has lived in Poway for 40 years.
If unable to boil water, residents could disinfect their drinking water by adding a small amount of unscented bleach, according to a fact sheet posted by the city.
San Diego County Department of Environmental Health also directed all restaurants and food preparation facilities within Poway city limits to stop food prep and service, and close down until the advisory is lifted.
"It is not safe to use the water for consumption, food preparation, or washing dishes," the county notice said.
In addition, restaurants must flush all water lines, purge beverage and ice machines connected to the water systems, throw away old ice, sanitize all items that may have been in contact with the water and discard all potentially contaminated food, according to the county notice.
It was a quiet Saturday and Sunday as restaurants went dark, forced to close on a usually busy Thanksgiving weekend.
"It is very frustrating. You know when we find out that not only can we not drink the water without boiling first, but the eatery establishments were shut down as well," Poway resident Paul said. "I am sure there is a lot of people waking up this [Sunday] morning going, 'What is wrong with the water?'"
The restaurant closures continued Monday. Signs could be seen on storefront windows throughout the community, including Starbucks locations.
"Sorry, but we will no be able to serve you today. Our store will be closed until the Poway boil water order is no longer in effect," a sign on a Poway Starbucks entrance read.
Poway staff tested the water at some of the reported homes and "found the water to be well within standards," the city said. "However, since the water discoloration appeared to be citywide, Poway water officials notified the State Water Resources Control Board of the situation and all parties determined a boil water advisory was in the best interest as a precautionary measure."
“We are taking all of the necessary steps to address this situation,” City Manager Chris Hazeltine said. “Restoring normal water service is our top priority.”
As for a timeline of when the advisory will be lifted, the city website said, "The City is not able to rescind the precautionary boil water advisory until the State is satisfied with testing results."
"I'm glad they're erring on the side of caution because I would hate to see anybody get sick from any contamination in the water," Farmer added.
The Poway Unified School District said schools would remain open Monday and authorities were taking the necessary steps to ensure student safety.
Bottled water will be provided to all of the affected schools as water fountains will be out of service, the district said. In addition, it asked parents to provide a water bottle from home for their child if possible. Any food preparations requiring water will be prepared "at an unaffected site," the school district added.
For further questions or concerns, the city has directed people to its Public Works office at (858) 668-4700.
Poway residents who have not signed up for emergency alerts from the County of San Diego can sign up at alertsandiego.org.