What Happens During a “Boil Order” or other Water System Emergency? 

Water utilities are constantly working to provide the best service in their communities. A part of this is having a plan for responding to emergencies. In some cases, a “boil order” must be enacted. If you receive a “boil order,” it is critical to drink bottled water or boil your water until operators lift their order. Operators will flush the water system, collect water samples, receive test results, and ensure water is safe for consumption again. In best-case scenarios, it is still common for this process to take three to four business days.

In many cases, when a water main breaks, customers may not notice any changes to water pressure. Water operators are continuing to provide pressure to the water system while repairing a ruptured water main “live” or “hot.”

If a large break occurs wherein operators cannot isolate the broken water main or make repairs “hot,” the pressure may start to drop, and a system-wide boil order may be issued. During this type of outage, customers may hear pipes draining and gurgling as the water system loses pressure. When the system re-pressurizes after repairs are performed, customers may hear bubbling, growling, or banging from water pipes in their homes and businesses. Additionally, once water is back on, customers may experience surges, bubbles, and burps from water taps and fixtures as trapped air escapes the pipes. Flushing water from a high point of the plumbing, such as an upstairs bathtub, should help release air from your home’s plumbing.

Your water utility should have an Emergency Response Plan (ERP) that details what to do in these scenarios as well as others that may arise impacting the utility, emphasizing consumer safety while restoring water service as soon as possible.

For more information on ERPs or Asset Management Plans, contact Jeff Fish or Rachel Runge.