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Water line break is one big headache

Thousands of north Tampa residents are told to boil their water, and Bruce B. Downs will be slowed by the repairs.

By GRAHAM BRINK, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published May 19, 2002

TAMPA -- A 54-inch water main under Bruce B. Downs Boulevard south of Interstate 75 sprang a leak early Saturday, causing city officials to ask thousands of residents north of the area to boil their drinking water for the time being.

Homes in the affected area suffered a drop or loss of water pressure for a short time Saturday morning, but no homes were without water by the afternoon.

City workers responded to the break in the concrete main about 3:30 a.m. The cause of the break was unclear, said Mike Bennett, operations and special projects manager for the city water department.

A drop in pressure can allow bacteria into the water supply, which necessitates boiling tap water used for drinking or cooking. Water should be boiled for at least a minute, city officials said.

The boiling requirement affects residents who receive water from the city north of where the main burst, including homeowners in Hunter's Green, West Meadows and Richmond Place. Tampa Palms, which is south of the break, was not affected.

City officials could know by as early as this afternoon whether residents in affected areas can go back to drinking the water right from the tap, Bennett said.

"Boiling is a precaution we take whenever this type of thing happens," Bennett said. "Better safe than sorry."

The main, near the Lowe's Home Improvement Warehouse and Commerce Park Boulevard, could take several days to fix, which will cause traffic delays on busy Bruce B. Downs Boulevard.

Northbound traffic was limited to one lane in the area where workers were repairing the main. A detour has been set up on Palm Springs Boulevard and around the back of the Lowe's to help with congestion. Southbound traffic still had two lanes, although many drivers were slowing to take a look at what was going on.

The delays could last a week, city officials said.

"This problem's not going to be an easy thing to fix because (the main) is huge," said Tampa Mayor Dick Greco. He added, "There's no construction out there. It just broke."

Hunter's Green resident Carol Poland woke up Saturday morning to no water at all. A couple of hours later, the faucets were flowing again with clear, "normal looking" water. She said she thought city workers did a "great" job of fixing the problem, but wondered why residents in affected areas weren't alerted earlier about boiling water or drinking bottled water.

Poland said she and many of her neighbors kept drinking the water until news reporters began calling in the afternoon asking questions about the water main and whether the residents planned to boil their water.

"I wish the city had some way of telling us sooner," Poland said. "It's probably not going to matter, but it would be nice to know earlier."

City Council member Shawn Harrison, who represents New Tampa, said he had heard about the break but was unaware of any serious problems.

Harrison said New Tampa is growing quickly, which sometimes puts extra stress on the infrastructure, although he did not know whether that was the cause of Saturday's problem. The New Tampa area has suffered similar problems in the past, including a water shutdown after a water main leak in 2000 that affected about 10,000 residents.

Audrey Romaner, who lives in the area, said she was not affected at all by the main breaking. She wasn't planning to boil water because she buys bottled water already.

"It was just another normal Saturday, really," she said. "No problems at all."

-- Times' staff writer Josh Zimmer contributed to this report. Graham Brink can be reached at (813) 226-3365 or

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