Whitefish Experiences ‘Catastrophic’ Water Main Break

Boil-water advisory in effect as businesses are forced to close

By Beacon Staff
Crews work to contain a water main break in Whitefish on Feb. 27, 2017. Justin Franz | Flathead Beacon

Updated: Feb. 27, 6 p.m.

A broken water main that Whitefish city officials described as “catastrophic” disrupted local businesses on Monday after a citywide boil order was issued until after the water could be sampled and tested.

After city work crews were hindered by snow and ice, they were able to isolate the break on Monday morning, returning increased water pressure throughout the city’s distribution system.

The break, which took place at Baker and 6th Street around 1:30 a.m. Monday, originally resulted in a loss of water pressure to a significant portion of the city and prompted the water department to ask residents to conserve water while the system refilled and pressurized.

As a public health precaution, the city issued a boil-water advisory, which means water should be brought to a rolling boil for one minute before it is consumed in order to kill potential bacteria that resulted from the break. City crews collected samples of water to monitor the situation. Test results were pending.

People with severely compromised immune systems, and some elderly, may be at increased risk, according to Whitefish City Manager Adam Hammatt.

Baker Avenue between Sixth and 10th streets will remain closed overnight, but Hammatt said he hopes to reopen the thoroughfare at some point Tuesday.

Until the results of the bacteriological water samples return, the boil order remains in effect, which directly impacted numerous local businesses. Restaurants throughout Whitefish closed for the day, while hotels cautioned guests against drinking tap water and warning signs appeared on public water fountains.

Hammatt said officials with the Department of Public Works expect to have the results Tuesday morning. If the samples come back safe, the advisory will be lifted.

“It is a disruption,” Kevin Gartland, Whitefish Chamber of Commerce director, said. “Hotels are having to contact their guests and tell them not to use the tap water. The city is on top of the break but it is going to impact local businesses until the situation is cleared up.”

Pat Carloss, owner of Tupelo Grille in downtown Whitefish, said he closed the restaurant because he didn’t want to jeopardize public health.

“The bottom line is that it’s too risky,” Carloss said. “We just didn’t have enough concrete information about the situation to justify putting our customers at risk. It’s just not worth it.”

Others stocked up on bottled water, which was at a premium as reports of grocery stores running out of stock sprang up on social media.

Hammatt said the failure was the result of a “tee” connection installed in 1999.

“Once the broken main was isolated, our crews took residual chlorine samples and found them to be in the proper range, however, the initial and significant loss of pressure prompted us to play it safe and issue the Boil Water Advisory,” Hammatt stated in a press release.

More information is available at www.cityofwhitefish.org. Questions can be directed to the Public Works Department at (406) 863-2460.

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