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Boil Water Order Is Lifted For 2M In Boston Area

Video courtesy of NECN

Gov. Deval Patrick lifted a boil water order Tuesday morning for 2 million people in the Boston area who were told their tap water could be unsafe after a crucial water main failed over the weekend.

Authorities said more than 800 tests showed the water in 30 communities is now safe for drinking. Saugus was the last town to be removed from the order, but was removed following test results Tuesday morning. Patrick said Saugus was the final community to have its boil water order lifted simply because that town's water test results were the last to be reviewed.

Officials are suggesting that people run their cold water faucets for about a minute and their hot water faucets for about 15 minutes before using the water for drinking or washing dishes.

They are also suggesting running dishwaters empty through one cycle to flush potentially contaminated water from the system, among other guidelines. (Full post-boil order guidelines)

At an early-morning news conference at Massachusetts Water Resources Authority headquarters in Chelsea on Tuesday, Patrick vowed to get the bottom of the incident that triggered the water crisis.

"Now that service has been restored, we will work with the MWRA board to investigate the causes of this event and to prevent anything like this from happening again in the future," Patrick said. "If there is fault to be found, we will find it, and we will hold those responsible accountable."

Laskey said the only “silver lining” in the crisis is that the pipe rupture happened near the Charles River, which meant water and debris gushing from the break rushed into the river and did not cause property damage.

Patrick also said the state will conduct an independent review of the region's entire water system to search for possible additional problems, and will try to accelerate ongoing work on a "redundant" water system designed to create a backup in case of the type of failure that occurred last weekend.

However, MWRA's executive director, Fred Laskey, said that redundant system is still "a couple of years away" from completion.

Laskey said the only "silver lining" in the crisis is that the pipe rupture happened near the Charles River, which meant that water and debris gushing from the break rushed into the river and did not cause any personal property damage.

"If it had been at a different location in the same area, we might have washed out a ramp to the (Massachusetts) Turnpike," Laskey explained, "or if it had been in a neighborhood we might have had some serious damage to homes and perhaps to individuals."

Patrick had issued the order Saturday after the 10-foot-wide pipe in Weston failed. Crews raced to repair the pipe, and authorities had been waiting for the results of water quality tests before lifting the order.

The breach forced the MWRA to use an emergency backup system of water that was not filtered and disinfected as thoroughly as the regular system is. As a result, residents were told to use bottled water or boil tap water for a minute before using it to drink, cook or brush their teeth.

On Monday, President Obama signed an emergency disaster declaration authorizing federal agencies to coordinate relief efforts with local authorities. That emergency order could help Massachusetts recoup some of the public costs of the repair job and related expenses.

House Speaker Robert DeLeo, whose hometown of Winthrop was under the boil water order, said he's anxious to make sure that rateepayers aren't left holding the repair bill.

However, the MWRA said it has not yet decided whether rate payers will receive a discount on their bills due to the water crisis, especially since water pressure remained normal during that time. Companies may only be able to recover the cost of any lost business related to the water crisis if they have so-called business interruption insurance.

Residents did their best to cope with the inconvenience, stocking up on bottled water and paper plates to avoid having to boil water to wash dishes.

At Fenway Park, where the Red Sox beat the Los Angeles Angels 17-8 on Monday night, water fountains were turned off and signs posted around the ballpark reminded fans of the order. The Red Sox brought in ice from Rhode Island for the clubhouse.

Concession stands were selling bottled soft drinks instead of fountain mixes, and beer service wasn't affected.

During his news conference on Tuesday, Patrick said he is confident that the region's water system is totally safe again.

"If there were a sink in here," he added, "I would take a glass from the tap and drink it myself."

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.

This program aired on May 4, 2010. The audio for this program is not available.

Sacha Pfeiffer Twitter Host, All Things Considered
Sacha Pfeiffer was formerly the host of WBUR's All Things Considered.

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