City says “high” number of boil water advisories not unusual - - Columbia, South Carolina

City says “high” number of boil water advisories not unusual


Less than a week ago, neighbors on Montgomery Avenue in the Rosewood neighborhood in Columbia were among the latest to be affected by a City water main break.

Mel Jenkins has lived on the street for 25 years, but says when a pipe burst last Thursday at 4:30am, that was a first.

"Columbia talks about it being a river city, we didn't expect them to bring a river to our neighborhood though," said Jenkins.

Jenkins said he watched water pour out for hours, and tons of sand from a neighbor's yard project was pushed down the street.

"One of the people said there was a least five feet of water down in their basement," said Jenkins. "I got a fair amount of damage, but some of our neighbors are pretty badly impacted by this."

The break in the Rosewood neighborhood is one of 10 water main breaks since December according to the City of Columbia. Since the start of the year, WIS has reported on several boil water advisories and water main breaks throughout the Midlands and in the City of Columbia's supply area.

City employees say the number of advisories has been high, but not unusual. 

"This time of year we see a lot more water main breaks than we tend to have because of the fluctuation of the temperature," said Joey Jaco, Director of Utilities for the City of Columbia.

Jaco said colder temperatures, change in pressure and change in system demand all can contribute to water line breaks.

"Since we've had these nice warm days, we haven't had any major breaks yet," said Jaco. "Hopefully we'll continue to see some warmer weather and that trend will stay with us."

Jaco said on average the City responds to 250 leaks or breaks every month, but the majority do not warrant a boil water advisory.

Weather aside, Jenkins believes there's a bigger issue.

"This is happening with frequency around the city, as we understand, so there's got to be some really good proactive plan to prevent this sort of thing from happening," he said.

Jaco said while the system is aged, the city is working proactively and has a $40 million infrastructure improvement budget for water lines.

"We're doing everything we can," said Jaco. "As far as, they're saying it's happening a lot right now, I think that's a good thing that we're communicating. That the communication's there."

The City has a third-party claims center that will assess the damage on Montgomery Avenue and work with homeowners like Jenkins. Jenkins said his biggest concern now is what's unseen.

"What we've got to do is get checking under the house and make sure that there's not damage under there, that there's not moisture under there which can translate into mold," he added.

Neighbors on Montgomery Avenue said the City was doing work on a fire hydrant the day before the break happened. We asked the city if the hydrant work could have been related to the break, and they say while there's always a possibility, they do not believe that was the case.

Jenkins told WIS he was not ever aware there was a boil water advisory issued. Jenkins said he was home during the break, but had not seen the news.

The City said when it comes to boil water advisories, it's not procedure for them to go door to door to notify residents. Officials say if it's a small area they will, but otherwise they utilize news outlets, a message system called Nixle, Facebook and Twitter.

"Unfortunately we can't always reach everyone when we send a Boil Water Advisory," said Jaco. "It's just an advisory, [that means] it's possible that something could have gotten in [the water]. It's not a boil water notice where we do know there's evidence of pathogens in the water."

Jaco said they are in the process of working on additional ways to notify residents in the event of a boil water advisory including the possible use reverse 911. But they always encourage anyone in an area where there's been a break or a change of water pressure to boil water. He said to date he's never heard of anyone becoming sick because of a City of Columbia water main break.

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