State Lifts Poway Boil Water Advisory After a Week of Frustration, Economic Loss

The city advised residents to flush their internal plumbing, throw out ice and replace filters.

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The State of California lifted Poway’s first-ever Precautionary Boil Water Advisory Friday after the city’s water supply became contaminated for a week from heavy rains over Thanksgiving weekend.

On Nov. 30, Poway issued a Precautionary Boil Water Advisory after residents reported “discolored water” coming from their taps the day prior.

“Due to the recent storm event it is believed that the potable drinking water system has possibly been compromised,” the advisory said.

The notice meant that only boiled or bottled water should be used for drinking and making ice to brushing your teeth and making food.

Poway Mayor Steve Vaus announced the advisory was lifted live on NBC 7 just after 6 p.m.

The city advised residents to flush their internal plumbing, throw out ice and replace filters.

Rain flooded the county for the days surrounding Thanksgiving, causing problems at Poway’s water reservoir.

The city’s clearwell reservoir is the final container system for its filtered water at the Lester J. Berglund Water Treatment Plant near Lake Poway. It looks like a huge swimming pool with a cover over it.

When the container is at risk of overflowing, a door opens to let water flow out into a storm drain. However, a faulty flap gate became stuck open and the drain backed up, sending contaminated water rushing into the clearwell reservoir, according to the city.

The State of California citied the City of Poway for its water treatment facility being out of compliance because of its proximity to the storm drain.

The notice came as a shock, according to the city, because regular facility inspections by the California State Water Resources Control Board over the last 50 years, including as recent as September, uncovered no similar compliance issues.

Looking to the future, Poway installed a sensor on the storm drain to alert staff if contaminated storm water nears the filtration system.

Since the malfunction, Poway sealed the door shut, and crews decontaminated the water and reservoir. The city’s water met state standards on Monday, but the city had to wait for the state to life the advisory, a city spokesperson confirmed.

“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 Mayor Steve Vaus said.

During this time, Poway set up water distribution stations at Lake Poway and Poway City Hall to give residents cases of clean drinking water.

On Friday, officials confirmed the water in the city’s reservoir was safe again.

Now that the reservoir is back to normal, the community is making good on promises to help the local restaurant industry get back some of its lost profits.

In the first days under the boil advisory, the community took to social media to call for an impromptu Restaurant Week, asking San Diegans across the county to come and “eat big, tip big,” in the city once the advisory was lifted.

"We emailed something out as soon as we found out," one restaurant owner said. "I've had several calls of people who are coming this way so we should have a very good night tonight."

“My heart goes out to the restaurants and the workers at those restaurants. We feel their pain,” Vaus said. “I’ve talked to some [businesses] who’ve said they have business interruption insurance, but we want to make them whole and get their folks working again.”

Though, some restaurants found ways around the advisory to keep their doors open and their employees paid.

Mike Pasulka’s Players Sports Grill was one of nearly 250 restaurants in the city that couldn’t serve customers without potable water.

Though his water looked fine, he said he didn’t want to risk customers getting sick. He also said he’d didn’t want to anger his employees, so he paid all 20 of them as if his grill was still open out of his own pocket.

“If I can help them be a little happier and have a little bit better of a month of December, then we are lucky enough that we are able to do it,” Pasulka said. “It'd be nice to have that money in my pocket but dispersing it among the people that have helped me get to where I am is what I think should be done.”

Kaminsky’s BBQ was able to serve customers who came to watch Monday Night Football. They filled their food truck with water from another city and used it to serve and prepare food and wash dishes. They also “imported” ice and a handwashing station from outside the city and served canned soda and bottled water.

In-N-Out also found a way to get around the advisory. The eatery received a modified health permit from the county that allows them to cook anything that doesn't rely on water. They can cook burger patties, but their toppings have to be brought in from other stores. Instead of French fries, patrons are offered chips.

But not all restaurants were so lucky. That’s why Poway officials and residents called for an impromptu Restaurant Week, asking San Diegans across the county to come and “eat big, tip big,” to make up for any lost revenue during the advisory.

“We’re going to come together like we always do. We’ve faced much tougher challenges in Poway and we’re going to get through this,” Vaus said.

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