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Plant fix forces cut in water supply


© St. Petersburg Times,
published June 7, 2001

TAMPA -- Tampa water customers are being asked to forgo lawn watering, car washing and other non-essential uses until Friday because damage from chlorine leaks at the Hillsborough River Water Treatment Facility is worse than originally thought.

A valve within the chlorinator and evaporator -- devices used to inject chlorine into the water supply -- burst Monday morning.

On Tuesday, workers determined that the bursting valve destroyed each device, Tampa Water Department officials said.

Replacement parts were ordered from New Jersey, but won't arrive until Friday morning. Until then, the plant will be operating at half capacity, producing just 40-million gallons of water a day instead of its usual 80-million.

Water Department spokeswoman India Williams said she hoped recent rains would encourage people with even-numbered addresses to skip their regular lawn-watering day Tuesday.

"We're not going to go fine people for watering on their designated day," Williams said. But people should keep in mind that "it's so much nicer to have it coming out of the faucet than to have green grass."

Essential tasks include drinking water, taking showers and flushing toilets, Williams said, not watering the lawn, washing the car, or filling the swimming pool.

About 9 a.m. Monday, the bursting valve released a white cloud of chlorine into the air at the plant, located beside the Hillsborough River at 7125 N 30th St. The cloud then drifted over a nearby neighborhood before it dissipated.

A second gas cloud leaked out at 11:15 a.m. The plant, Rogers Park Golf Course and 100 homes and businesses west of the plant were evacuated Monday. Williams said officials still aren't sure what caused the valve to burst.

Nine people were sent to the hospital, including four plant workers and three firefighters. One worker, 38-year-old Bill Hensel, was seriously injured and was still in guarded condition at St. Joseph's Hospital Tuesday night. The nature of his injuries was not known.

Chlorine causes severe respiratory damage if it is inhaled in large quantities. It also can cause eye, nose and throat irritation and burns.

Williams said workers spent most of the day Tuesday trying to repair the damage and get the plant back up to capacity. When it became clear around 3 p.m. that new parts would have to be ordered from out of state, Williams and Water Department Director Dave Tippin tried to inform the public as quickly as possible about the need to cut back water use.

Keeping water use for the entire city under 40-million gallons would be impossible, Williams said, especially on a designated watering day.

On very slow days, Tampa Water Department customers might use as little as 60-million gallons, still 20-million more than the plant can produce right now. On last Tuesday's watering day, city of Tampa water customers used 106-million gallons.

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