On Friday morning, Jasmine Partridge – mother to two boys and two girls – woke up everybody in the house after turning the water off.
“Get up, everybody get up,” said Partridge, who described herself as one of those loud mothers. “I explained that we had to boil water before we use it, if we get it from the faucet. I have two younger ones who may forget, so I turned the water off in the sinks.”
Memphis Light Gas and Water (MLGW) issued a boil-water advisory on Thursday. Low water pressure, the advisory noted, could subject Memphis and Shelby County to unsafe water conditions caused by harmful bacteria. The day before, MLGW customers were encouraged to “start conserving water.”
Frigid, icy conditions throughout the week created single-digit temperatures, dangerous road conditions, broken water mains, a second state of emergency in the City of Memphis and the boil-water directive.
The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) requires an advisory to boil water when the water pressure falls below 20 lbs. per square inch.
“I really don’t know what all of that means,” said Partridge. “We live in Raleigh and my job closed this week (for inclement weather). I work in a doctor’s office located in Bartlett. I heard we had to start boiling water on the news Thursday.”
Partridge went out riding and found the shelves at Kroger and Walmart empty, not a bottle of water in sight.
“But I went to this little corner store down the street and bought four cases of bottled water,” she said. “Last week, I paid $3.99 for a case, but when I came back on Friday, the case was $7. I fussed about it, but I still bought it. I was happy to find the water, really.”
Partridge said through the pandemic and the home-schooling, her children have been kept “happy and healthy” because she keeps things as close to normal as possible in their house.
“No matter what’s going on around them, it’s just normal in the house,” she said. “Thank God, our power has stayed on. That would probably be devastating. The only change this week has been that the cold has kept them inside. That first day, they went out and played in the snow. They haven’t been out since.”
Partridge said before going out to find bottled water, she boiled a pot of water on the stove “the old-fashioned way.” She drinks a lot of tea, so boiling water is common.
“After we let the water cool off for about 15 or 20 minutes, I gave them all their own cup of water to wash their face and brush their teeth. Then, after finding the cases of water, we’re using the bottled water.
“I’m not rationing water. They drink a lot of water, and kids already have had to deal with isolation during the pandemic. Despite the advisory to boil water, we’re keeping it ‘normal.’”
Meanwhile, the boil-water advisory contributed heavily to a yo-yo like week for local restaurants. The Shelby County Health Department moved to address the uncertainty with a health order and directive regarding MLGW’s boil-water advisory.
“Until MLGW’s boil water advisory ends, all MLGW customer businesses that provide prepared food and/or beverages must remain closed if they are unable to boil water before using it to prepare any food or beverage for public consumption. This includes discontinuing any use of ice machines that directly use tap water,” the health department message detailed.
Business operators were reminded they should already be offering customers suitable means for washing or disinfecting their hands to avoid the spread of the COVID-19 virus. Such measures are deemed a vital component in food preparation because they help curtail food borne illnesses and promote healthy hygiene.
Meanwhile, the ongoing system-wide water pressure issues forced the temporary closure of the Memphis International Airport (MEM) passenger terminal. In a distributed message, airport officials acknowledge problems with low pressure periodically through the week.
On Thursday night, the water-pressure issue reached the point that passenger operations were no longer feasible. As a result, airlines cancelled all passenger flights for Friday. Cargo operations remained unaffected.
MEM officials reported ongoing discussions regarding potential solutions and alternatives.
“This is a last resort for MEM,” said Scott Brockman, president and CEO of the Memphis-Shelby County Airport Authority. “A passenger airport cannot function without a safe and dependable water supply, which we do not have at this time. Our staff is committed to providing a safe, sanitary and secure operation. We hope that MLGW is able to resolve this issue as quickly as possible.
By Friday evening, airport officials had confirmed that MEM would not open “until at least noon tomorrow, although the opening time could be later. This is no set opening time at this point, as many details are still not confirmed. The airport is working on multiple short-term options that would allow for the opening of temporary restrooms and the resumption of passenger flight operations.”
Passengers were advised to continue checking with airlines to stay up to date on scheduling changes. Each airline handles its own scheduling adjustments.
Keep up with MLGW developments on the utility’s Twitter and Facebook pages.
At the Allen Combined Cycle Natural Gas Plant in Memphis, generation out was voluntarily reduced, said Scott Brooks of TVA public relations. as of today.
“By taking the steam turbine generator offline, the reduction of water for the combined cycle process will help MLGW to better serve their residential customers, and this action protects TVA’s ability to continue to serve the load demand and provide power to the residents of Memphis,” release from Brooks detailed.
The plant will continue to operate its two combustion turbines in “simple cycle mode,” which allows for generation to be produced at a reduced rate of up to 700 megawatts.
According to Brooks’ release, “TVA does not expect any interruption of power supply to the area, as we have multiple delivery points for reliable electricity to Memphis and diverse generation sources in our extensive portfolio.”