By Tova Fruchtman
At about 8:30 p.m. on Wednesday, April 11, parts of Sandy Springs and North Buckhead lost water pressure. The cause: a break in a 20-foot water main under Northside Drive just north of West Wesley Road.
The drop in water pressure in the system makes it easier for contaminates to get into the water line, and so the City of Atlanta Department of Watershed Management issued a boil water advisory until noon on the Friday following the break, when it could be confirmed the water was untainted, said Janet Ward, the public relations coordinator for the department.
As crews worked Thursday to repair the main, and later another leak they noticed just about 30 feet away from the original leak, Atlantans battled traffic on Peachtree Road because of a closed Northside Drive. Numerous hotels and restaurants worked quickly to respond to the boil water advisory that effected the area west of Northside Drive to the Dekalb County line and north of East and West Wesley Roads to a line parallel with Carter Drive.
North Atlanta High School had to re-route busses and parent drop-off and pick up traffic because of the detour around the repairs on Northside Drive. Free bottled water was distributed throughout the school for students to drink as needed, said Principal J. Scott Bursmith.
As soon as they lost water pressure past experience of the management of the Buckhead Life Group restaurants told them a boil-water advisory was coming, and they started following a 10-step procedure that each restaurant is given in case of just such circumstances.
“What you have to do is pretty simple,” said Niko Karatassos, director of Human resources and operations for Buckhead Life Group restaurants. “It just takes a lot of effort and you have to be prepared.”
Of the Buckhead Life Group’s 12 Atlanta restaurants 10 — including Nava, Atlanta Fish Market, Bluepoint and Buckhead Diner — were under the boil water advisory. But, unlike some other area restaurants and coffee shops, they were all able to stay open.
On Wednesday evening they boiled water for washing utensils and ordered ice delivered from an outside vendor.
Early the next morning Karatassos said the restaurants also ordered bottled and canned sodas — since fountain drinks could not be used — and jugs of spring water — that they used for cooking, coffee and tea, and serving to customers.
FDA approved hand sanitizing lotion went in every bathroom and every cook’s position in the kitchen. While Karatassos said that workers can use the water and antibacterial soap to wash their hands, he said employees are asked to use the sanitizer as an extra precaution.
Past encounters with similar circumstances helped the Buckhead Life Group, which has been in Atlanta for more than 25 years, design the check list that each restaurant must complete before opening during a boil-water advisory.
“It ensures that we’re not serving, cooking with or cleaning with any water that is not either spring water or water that has been boiled,” Karatassos said. “Your customers need to know that they can count on you and that’s why we do it.”
Karatassos said opening under a boil water advisory means extra hard work more than it means extra cost.
“It’s a matter of being prepared and having a system in place so that you are able to operate,” he said.
And he said a heightened consciousness of always being clean and safe helps operations go smoothly. Each chef and manager is specially certified for safety and the group hires a private organization to regularly inspect their restaurants to ensure food safety and handling.
“In a situation like this with the water, (employees) are able to react with a frame of mind that’s a result of these other measures we take on a daily basis,” Karatassos said.
Residents of North Buckhead were somewhat confused about the advisory, said Gordon Certain, president of the North Buckhead Civic Association (www.nbca.org).
“There was a lot of confustion about the boundaries of the boil water alert,” he said.
Certiain, who was affected by the advisory at his home, said that the northern boundary defined by Watershed Management as Carter Drive is a little known street that is about 1,800 feet long just off of Peachtree-Dunwoody Road.
Other residents also e-mailed Certain looking for a specific time that the boil water advisory lasted.
But Certain said he addressed his concerns to Watershed Management Commissioner Robert Hunter and was met with helpful response, as usual. “They really go out of their way to cater to our neighborhood. Whenever we’ve had an issue Watershed will spend a lot of time with us,” Certain said.
Certain added that he realizes that the sewer and water system are old, and problems like the recent main break are inevitable. “I think it’s a good idea to keep a couple of bottles of water around just in case,” said Certain who keeps a few gallons of water in his garage that he used during the boil water advisory. “With these things, you never know.”
Ward said that this is not the first time this particular main has broken. She explained that because of its location in the system the Northside Drive main does have more water pressure running through it than other mains in the system, but that the main doesn’t look or seem dilapidated.
That being said, the city will bring in national experts to examine the “structural integrity” of the main and see if it needs further improvements, Ward said.
In the meantime, there isn’t much anyone can do to prevent water main breaks in the future, she said. “You can’t predict them and you can’t prevent them.”
And like this break in Buckhead, there isn’t much residents can do once a main is broken. “There is really nothing people can do except pay attention to the media and heed the boil water advisory,” Ward said. “All we ask them to do is be patient.”