Wellington Water Utility Issues Two Rare Boil-Water Notices

Something quite uncommon happened in Wellington during the first week of October. There was not one precautionary boil-water notice in effect, but two.

The first, affecting residents of Pond View Drive in Palm Beach Polo, was the result of a water main break, Utilities Director Shannon LaRocque said.

“This was due to an FPL subcontractor hitting one of our water mains with a directional drill machine. It included 35 units,” she said. “That was out of our control.”

The second, affecting residents on Sunset Point Circle, Sunset Point Lane, Sunset Point Drive, Sunset Point Court and Sag Harbor Court, was also a result of a water main break and affected 138 units.

“That was a traditional water main break. That’s a water main that’s close to 30 or 35 years old, and there were two holes in the bottom of the water main,” LaRocque said. “Sometimes that happens over time, if you get some settling, or a rock or something that sits on the water main — this is PVC pipe — that can actually puncture it over time.”

In both instances, residents were alerted to the notice through yellow door hangers placed on their doors Monday, Oct. 2.

When there is a boil-water notice, it is reported to the Palm Beach County Health Department. The notice is a precautionary measure, LaRocque added.

“What we have to do is take samples for two consecutive days. We take samples and run bacteriological tests, and if they pass, they can stop the boil water,” LaRocque said.

By Wednesday, Oct. 4, the precautionary notices were lifted, and green door hangers were placed on residents’ doors to let them know that the water was indeed safe.

“All bacteriological samples have passed and the boil water order has been lifted with health department approval,” the village announced Wednesday afternoon. “The water is safe to drink.”

Though Wellington doesn’t frequently have precautionary boil-water notices, LaRocque said that they are not uncommon in the utility business.

“This is normal for utilities. Utilities have water main breaks. Sometimes it’s within our control, sometimes it’s not within our control,” she said. “Our job is to make sure we’re prepared to address the issue as soon as possible and minimize the outage, and obviously avoid any contamination to the drinking water.”

Wellington, she said, is well-prepared for any instances that may occur.

“There are utilities that aren’t well-maintained, but Wellington’s is very well-maintained,” LaRocque said. “We’re doing a very aggressive condition assessment with the water and wastewater system, underground water and wastewater system, collection piping and distribution piping, to prioritize areas.”

The two breaks, she stressed, are not in any way an indication of a systemic problem.

Wellington is conducting studies on its water mains, she said, and is using the results to better its system.

“We’ll start to see some construction projects move forward where we’ll actually start replacing water mains,” LaRocque said. “That happens in a utility. The cycle is continuous.”

As piping gets to be 30 to 40 years old, utility departments get more aggressive in the replacement of water mains.

Wellington, LaRocque said, did a great job sharing the notice on social media and notifying residents of the potential issue.

The Palm Beach County Health Department issues suggestions for what to do in the case of a boil-water notice, including drinking bottled water, stopping ice machine production, and using bottled water for hand washing and for cooking.

Boiling water is the best way to kill possible contaminants.

For areas without power, eight drops, or 1/8 of a teaspoon, of unscented household bleach can be mixed with a gallon of water and left to stand for a half-hour. If the water is cloudy after that time, 16 more drops, or 1/4 teaspoon, of bleach can be added, waiting an additional half-hour.

There are a few things residents can do to help avoid a water main break. First, LaRocque said, is to contact the village anytime work such as putting in fence posts or planting a tree is going to be done. Those shouldn’t be done in utility easements, but it is best to make sure that work won’t be done near anything underground that could be punctured.

“Big trees with roots that fall over can dig up water mains,” she said.

It’s also possible to puncture a water main with a shovel while digging.

Fortunately, she said, the recent effects of Hurricane Irma did not have a major impact on the village’s utility system, or the water main by Sunset Point Circle and Sag Harbor Court.

As a result of Irma, there were approximately 25 service turnoffs where uprooted trees damaged private plumbing, LaRocque said, but there wasn’t any damage to the village’s plumbing.

One of the two Oct. 2 water main breaks could have been prevented, she said, but the other was not easily preventable.

“We do an excellent job at maintaining our systems,” LaRocque said. “This certainly doesn’t indicate that the village has been lacking with respect to maintenance of those systems.”