Atlanta water system still in repair on Day 5 of outages

Workers continued to install pipes to replace a ruptured water main in Atlanta on Tuesday, Day 5 of persistent water problems in parts of the city

Jeff Amy,Sharon Johnson
Tuesday 04 June 2024 21:14 BST

Workers continued to install pipes to replace a ruptured water main in Atlanta on Tuesday, as water problems persisted in some parts of the city for a fifth day.

“Making progress,” Mayor Andre Dickens told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution at the site of the ruptured pipe in the city's Midtown neighborhood. “(I’m) so ready for this to be over. So are the residents around here.”

By Monday afternoon, the area under a boil-water advisory was sharply reduced after pressure was restored in many areas following Saturday’s repair of the first mammoth leak, west of downtown. But downtown, Midtown and areas to the east remained under a boil order Tuesday, and water was still shut off in the blocks immediately surrounding that repair site.

Workers continued to cut and place new pipes into Tuesday after a leak that sent a gushing river onto the streets of Midtown finally was cut off around sunrise Monday.

Some hotels, offices and residences in high-rise buildings across a broader area were still affected Tuesday, because lower water pressure in the system means toilets won’t flush on higher floors and some air conditioning systems won’t operate normally.

Norfolk Southern Corp. partially closed its headquarters building about eight blocks from the repair site. The state of Georgia’s office complex downtown was still experiencing low pressure and discolored water, but Gerald Pilgrim, the deputy executive director of the Georgia Building Authority, said “all systems are functioning at safe levels.”

“We know results are mixed here in terms of buildings and the experience with water service, water pressure,” said Brian Carr, a spokesperson for the Midtown Alliance, which promotes development in the Atlanta district.

Many residents are frustrated with the pace of repairs. Officials have provided no estimates of how many residents are still affected or how many were affected at peak.

“In all my life, I’ve never seen a situation like this,” Chris Williams, a Midtown resident, said Tuesday. “This is a pretty big city and this is kind of giving small city vibes. ... Why couldn’t it have been figured out earlier, and how can we not inform more?”

Dickens, a first-term Democratic mayor, has faced criticism for being out of town and slow to communicate after the first leak began. Dickens left Friday and stayed overnight in Memphis, Tennessee to raise funds for his 2025 reelection campaign. He said the extent of problems weren't clear when he left.

Spokesperson Michael Smith said Dickens met with Memphis Mayor Paul Young and other leaders, and that he was in “constant communication” with Atlanta officials before returning Saturday.

Atlanta’s water outages are the latest failures as cities across the country shore up faltering infrastructure. A 2022 crisis in Jackson, Mississippi, which has a long-troubled water system, left many residents without safe running water for weeks. Other cities including Flint, Michigan, have also struggled to supply residents with safe drinking water.

Atlanta voters support improvements: Last month, they approved continuing a 1-cent sales tax to pay for water and sewer improvements. The city that dumped untreated sewage into creeks and the Chattahoochee River until ordered to stop by a federal court has spent billions to upgrade its aging sewer and water systems, even drilling a tunnel through 5 miles (8 kilometers) of rock to store more than 30 days of water.

The latest troubles began Friday when a junction of three water mains sprang a massive leak west of downtown. Department of Watershed Management Commissioner Al Wiggins Jr. has said that leak was caused by corrosion and was tricky to repair because the three pipes created a confined space for work.

Wiggins said city workers still aren’t sure why the Midtown leak began hours later, but it too was difficult to fix because it happened at a junction of two large water pipes, and the valve to turn them off was inaccessible under the gushing liquid.

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