Gatineau and Houston water plant pressure losses highlight boil water notification process

Gatineau residents have the option to register for a digital notification system that alerts them through text, email, or phone message in the case of water events or other urgent situations. Photo credit: Ville de Gatineau

Some 35,000 water customers in the Quebec Village of Gatineau were recently under a boil water advisory due to a depressurization issue at the local water plant, just one week after a similar situation left millions of customers under a boil advisory in Houston, Texas.

The Gatineau depressurization was caused by a “mechanical malfunction”, local officials said, while the Houston event was caused by a power outage.

Pressure drops, generally speaking, are caused by issues with pump malfunctions or lost power; however, sometimes one of the water lines or mains may have had a break or failure.

“Gatineau will not take any chances in those cases, and asks everyone to boil their drinking water as a preventive measure before consuming it, until the test results are out, which generally takes 48 hours,” local officials state on the municipality’s website. “If the tests are negative, the boil water advisory is lifted. If the tests are positive, Gatineau issues a regulatory advisory.”

Subscribe to our Newsletter!

The latest environmental engineering news direct to your inbox. You can unsubscribe at any time.

Gatineau public works repaired the water main and lifted the advisory within 24 hours after lab test results found no bacteria. Houston needed more time to process its lab water samples for The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, eventually lifting the boil water advisory after some 36 hours.

The advisories in both recent cases were considered preventative, as the drop in pressure increased the potential for contaminants to be introduced, as well as the risk of backflow. A pressure loss is typically defined as the pressure having dropped below 20 psi.

In Gatineau’s case, however, the potential for a pressure loss or interruption in the water supply was foreseen, and officials sent out preemptive notifications almost one week in advance of the repair. In Texas, however, the situation was far more unexpected, particularly in terms of the plant not being able to access backup power.

How exactly customers are notified in these situations has also drawn scrutiny since the Houston situation, where many local residents were critical of how the boil water notice rolled out. Initially, it was communicated through an evening media advisory and a post on Twitter. However, many residents said they did not learn of the notice until the following morning, when news outlets announced that local schools would be closed.

Houston’s mayor said he asked the head of the city’s homeland security department to alert residents of the boil water notice via text message; however, the process took longer than he had expected.

While Gatineau officials posted on Twitter as well, they also give residents the option to register for a digital notification system that alerts users through text, email, or phone message in the case of water events or other urgent situations. In the case of water, the notifications could cover current boil advisories, temporary water shut-offs, no water use advisories, or even the testing of fire hydrants.

No posts to display


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here