Americus water supply: what exactly happened and when can we return to normal?

Published 9:56 am Friday, May 6, 2022

As is well known at this point, the entire City of Americus is under a boil water advisory. This means any water that is ingested or used in preparation for ingesting must be boiled in order to confirm its safety. Most are aware of how to boil water; however, the city has ensured everyone has access to this information. Now that we are in the process of securing a healthy water supply, many are turning to the question of what happened and why has this come to be our reality for the past few days? The Americus Times-Recorder reached out to Howard Tibbitt, MCRT, Jacobs, Project Manager, who has been tasked with providing his expertise to the situation. First, Mr. Tibbitt wants citizens to know that he puts the health and safety of our citizens as first priority. While he understands this situation is frustrating, he will not be swayed from ensuring our water supply is up to and exceeding standards. “While it is inconvenient and no one would choose to be in such a state, above all, no standards will be compromised in an effort to speed the process. Too much is at stake to not get this right. Your health is too precious to not pay attention and tend to every detail of getting this correct. While the need for a speedy resolution is appreciated by our professionals the prioritized need is ensuring this is done correctly and our city being able to absolutely know our citizens enjoy a healthy supply of water.” Tibbitt said.

In an email sent from Hibbitt to the Americus Times-Recorder, Tibbitt explains how we came to be in such a state. It reads as follows:

“On May 4, operators at the Americus Water Treatment Plant No. 1 discovered an open vent screen on a tank, known as a clearwell, used to store treated water. The vent appears to have been displaced by wind. This kind of unplanned opening in a water system must be inspected to make sure no contaminants have been introduced into the system.

Operators consulted with regulators and a compliance expert, and determined that a boil water advisory should be issued as a precaution. This advisory is posted to the City of Americus website, displayed at City offices and broadcast via local news media.

The water system operating staff, the City of Americus and regulatory authorities are working together to inspect the clearwell and the water distribution system. This inspection includes conducting close visual checks of the clearwell, collecting and testing water samples from the clearwell and sampling/testing at 12 sampling points throughout Americus’ water distribution system.

We expect to complete the inspection and receive test results on Saturday, May 7. Once these activities are complete, and test results indicate water is safe to use, we will end the boil water advisory and return the system to routine operation.

It is important to understand the following:

  • A boil water advisory is issued out of an abundance of caution and concern for public health. Such an advisory does not mean there is an imminent threat to safety or health.
  • Residents and businesses should consume bottled water if it is available.
  • Non-drinking activities such as laundry and lawn and garden irrigation can continue as usual.
  • Bathing and showering also can continue. Be careful not to swallow any water. Supervise children during bathing and showering.

For more information about drinking water advisories, see the Centers for Disease Control Frequently Asked Questions about Boil Water Advisories.”

Mr. Tibbitt is a well respected professional in his field. As is often the case with experts there is a language which is indigenous to their field. As the Americus Times-Recorder understood Tibbitt to say, due to inclement weather this problem was initiated. When it was discovered, in a timely manner, the team went to work. Again, with public safety as the top priority, the citizenry was made aware of the boil water advisory utilizing media resources as well as the Sumter County Emergency Management Agency. The standard plan for addressing the problem, step by step, was then taken on. As of late afternoon  May 5, 2022, according to Tibbitt all was on track and the next step is to send a diver into the water supply to take pictures and videos to further investigate if any problems exist which can not be determined without such an intervention. To procure the professional who could take on the task of course takes time, but it was done. At the time of speaking with Tibbitt the diver had not arrived on site. Once the diver provides an in-depth analysis the team will take next steps. Those next steps include procuring samples for testing from 12 different areas. This process is also timely; however, it will not be sacrificed to lift the boil water advisory. After the samples are collected, they will be thoroughly tested. Such a test takes 24 hours. By the time 24 hours have passed, it is expected to be mid-afternoon on Saturday, May 7. Should the samples pass the test, the boil water advisory should be lifted. Please understand this the best-case scenario. Should there be hindrances based upon the information gathered by the diver, hindrances in collecting the 12 samples, hindrances in testing the samples or if the samples do not reflect a safe drinking water, the boil water advisory will not be lifted. Again, while it is a timely process, our professionals are doing a thorough job because above all their job is to remove threats to public health. It can be confirmed the team is working as quickly, efficiently and effectively as is possible and they are well aware of our community’s need for safe water. While it is completely understandable boiling water is at best inconvenient, it needs to be known our experts keep this is mind as they go about ensuring our health.

As with the initial call to the community to boil water being ingested, another effort will also go forth to confirm to the community it is safe to return to enjoying the gift of utilizing water straight from the tap. When such a call is issued, you can rest assured the experts have every confidence our water meets the standards for such.

In addition to residents, our schools as well as some of our eateries have been affected. Sumter County Schools utilize city water supplies, and they also make the safety of their professionals and students a top priority. Being the case, the system has cancelled school for today. As far as our eateries, unless they have a detailed plan on how they can ensure the sanitation and health of the food and drink they provide us, they are not allowed to serve food and drink. Locally, there are some options available to us if you choose to eat away from home. To confirm your eatery of choice is open and in full service, please call ahead. Just as our city professionals are ensuring they can stand confidently behind our water supply; our eateries are doing the same.

To ensure you are alerted at the earliest possible moment on any emergency related news to include weather warnings and potential community dangers, please utilize the county’s CODE RED system. The easiest way to access is to text 99411 with the message alertsumter. To confirm, yes, there is no space between alert and sumter. If you rather access via internet, or read more about CODE RED, please visit the county’s website at sumtercountyga.us. You will see a CODE RED tab at the top of the home page. Should you not have access to technology, our Sumter County Emergency Management Agency (EMA) Director, Nigel Poole will help sign you up manually. You can reach Nigel at 229-815-9531. The EMA can be considered a county level version of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) as they invest in “preparing for and responding to disasters, and mitigating potential hazards” specific to Sumter County. An unsafe water status falls within their purview. Please be aware our EMA serves all of Sumter County and is not limited to the City of Americus.

As this story develops the Americus Times-Recorder will be providing information. Please take the care with your health as our experts are. Also, again, please note, the boil water advisory does not apply to water that is not ingested or used for purposes of ingestion. Bathing (with caution employed not to ingest the water) washing your hands, lawn irrigation, flushing the toilet, general cleaning and other everyday activities do not require a pre-boil. However, please remember brushing your teeth as well as water for your pets should be put through a boil. The boil should be sustained for a minimum of one minute. Also, when the advisory is lifted, you will need to run your tap for a minimum of two minutes for complete assurance.