Around noon on Friday, February 3, assistant principal Spencer Hawkins came on the announcements to tell students that, due to a city-wide water crisis, they could go home early. The Orange Water and Sewer Authority (OWASA) had issued an emergency release at 11 that morning, saying that due to limited water supply, residents were “not to use water until further notice.”
The cafe commons erupted into cheers, as friends discussed how they were going to spend their newly-free half-day. Students, staff and families alike also made plans to buy and stockpile bottled water to last until the crisis was over. Thus began a rather inconvenient, but all together never dangerous, weekend in Chapel Hill-Carrboro.
A common misconception about this weekend’s crisis is that the reason OWASA issued “do not drink” order was because residents’ tap water was contaminated with high levels of fluoride. It’s true that on Thursday, February 2, the cities’ water treatment plant on Jones Ferry Road oversaturated its water with dangerous levels of fluoride.
However, that water was quickly discarded. To make up for the loss, Chapel Hill-Carrboro started borrowing water from Durham, made possible by the fact that the two water systems are connected. The real issue came late the next morning, when a pipe linking the cities’ water burst near Dobbin Creek.
The leak lead to the loss of around 1.5 million gallons of water, and brought the Chapel-Hill Carrboro water supply to a dangerous low. OWASA urged in their release that using any water could results in system-wide contamination.
Friday afternoon, the town of Chapel Hill forced all restaurants to close, and the UNC v. Notre Dame basketball game scheduled for Saturday night was rescheduled to Sunday afternoon and moved to Greensboro.
Free water was available throughout the weekend to those in need at a few places around the area, including at Carrboro High. The Harris Teeter in Carrboro also gave out free water while supplies lasted.
On Sunday, February 5, OWASA held its second press conference of the weekend, saying that residents could begin to use water again in limited quantities. A few hours later, the emergency order was completely rescinded, and residents were permitted to resume normal water usage.
Photo by Hope Anderson