Updated at 7:39 p.m. Sept. 14 with new information.
The Times Free Press has made this story available to all readers, not just subscribers, as a public service so all Chattanoogans can get the most recent information about the water outage. Please consider supporting this type of local journalism and subscribe to the newspaper here.
While most regained water on Saturday following repairs, many of the 35,000 connections impacted by a Thursday night water main break in Chattanooga are still without water going into Sunday. An even greater sample is under a boil advisory until water lab results return later Sunday.
After about 36 hours, more than half of the affected connections had regained some or all water pressure by the time of a news conference held by local government, water company and emergency management officials Saturday morning.
Tennessee American Water company touted that preliminary repairs on the main had been completed earlier in the day and that the recovery process was well underway, but it cautioned customers about potential dangers and delays, providing that a problem once expected to resolve Friday evening could seep well into Monday for parts of the area.
"I've had two things on my mind in the last 48 hours: We've got 108 employees that have been working around the clock to restore service and every one of our focuses has been to get customers back into water," Tennessee American Water Director of Operations Kevin Kruchinski said. " There has been a bit of confusion for some folks, but we had to isolate the leak, repair the leak and then we have to restore our system. We are in recovery mode right now. A large percentage of our coverage area has been restored today and, through the next 24-48 hours, we're going to see additional recovery."
Kruchinski explained that areas further from the Wiehl Street plant off of Amnicola Highway and at higher elevations — including Lookout Mountain and Elder Mountain — will take significantly longer to restore full water connections to because of infrastructure.
As water connectivity is restored, Tennessee American Water and the local authorities implore customers to be conservative with water usage, avoiding frivolous expenditures to help restore pressure where it is needed and to boil water intended for consumption.
Throughout the incident, the company has maintained state water quality standards but strongly recommends all Tennessee American Water customers in Hamilton County and North Georgia exercise extreme caution and boil all water for oral consumption for three minutes prior to use.
"It's been a point of contention and a lot of confusion and we've taken a lot of feedback over the last 48 hours, as you can imagine. Tennessee American Water has met all Tennessee Department of Environmental Conservation water quality standards from the beginning of this event through today — every one," Kruchinski said. "Out of an abundance of precaution for our customers, we have asked customers to boil water. That's been our message from the beginning and it's still our message today."
Water samples were collected and sent to labs for testing Saturday but take a full day to produce results. While Tennessee American and local governments will provide updated maps of areas that are recovered, partially recovered and, ultimately, exempt from the boil advisory every few hours over the next two days or so, all listed areas are under the advisory until at least late morning Sunday.
Local customers of other water companies in the area are not included in the advisory.
Cause and impact still unclear
The main break occurred about 20 feet from where crews were working on a planned maintenance project on one of the city's largest water mains late Thursday, leaving thousands of connections in downtown and North Chattanooga disrupted for most or all of Friday, with the majority expected to be down for at least part of Saturday, as well.
Neither Kruchinski nor Tennessee American Water Chief Engineer Kurt Stafford would confirm whether the break was related to the maintenance.
"Our current emphasis has been on isolation, repair and recovery. We know that a 36-inch pipe broke and released the water, and that is what caused the outage," Kruchinski said. "But what the root of it was, we'll work through that when the time comes."
The water main is owned and operated by the water company, which has incurred all maintenance expenses related to the incident.
No city, county or Tennessee American Water official has been able to provide details on what the maintenance and emergency services cost, how much water was lost or how the fiscal impact of emergency response will be distributed.
Getting potable water
Drinkable water will be distributed Sunday from 1-6 p.m. at the following locations:
- John A. Patten YFD Center, 3202 Kelly's Ferry Road
- North Chattanooga YFD Center, 406 May St.
- Chattanooga Police and Fire Training Center, 3200 Amnicola Highway
Those unable to travel to get water can call the city's 311 hotline at 423-643-6311, email them at email@example.com or message them on Facebook.
To ensure there is enough for everyone in need, officials ask that those with enough drinkable water to make it through Sunday avoid collecting extra.
Business was getting back to normal Saturday for much of downtown.
Local attractions were among the first to announce their reopenings early in the day.
Among them was the Tennessee Aquarium.
"Our facilities maintenance team reports that water pressure has returned to both Aquarium buildings and IMAX early this morning and the chiller systems are once again operating at full capacity," spokesman Thom Benson said in a statement.
On Friday, the aquarium announced that several animals died as a result of the water outage and subsequent loss of chiller systems.
"We want to thank everyone for their support during the past 24 hours," Benson added.
The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga also resumed all normal activities a day after having to close its campus Friday. Students can now shower, do laundry and cook, according to a post from the university on Twitter.
Contact Sarah Grace Taylor at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6416. Follow her on Twitter @sarahgtaylor.