SAWS answers frequently asked questions about boil water notice, low water pressure

Some residents may need to boil water for several days

SAWS officials announce boil water notice
SAWS officials announce boil water notice

SAN ANTONIO – As if this week didn’t have enough challenges already with power outages, icy streets and other winter weather woes, now many people in the San Antonio area have been asked to boil their water.

For SAWS customers, the recommendation came Thursday and prompted many questions from KSAT viewers.

We reached out to Anne Hayden, SAWS communications manager and got some answers.

Why is this being called a “voluntary” boil recommendation and not a Boil Water Notice?

At this point, TCEQ is not requiring SAWS to issue an official Boil Water Notice. That requirement is triggered when there are confirmed contaminants in the water.

“By in large we have great confidence in our system, but some of the tanks have been emptied and refilled, so we’re not entirely certain that something might not have intruded into the pipes,” Hayden said.

Hayden said that when water pressure drops below 20 psi (pounds per square inch) there is an opportunity for sediment, dirt or bacteria to get into the pipes.

“Right now, there’s no indication that happened, but once the pressure is back up we will test everything in our system. Until then, we can’t certify that it’s 100% safe,” Hayden said.

The SAWS spokesperson added that people who haven’t lost any water pressure this week shouldn’t have any issue with the safety of their drinking water.

Can you drink water that has been filtered through your refrigerator or with a reverse osmosis system at your sink?

A filtration system that just uses carbon filters would not be good enough, Hayden said. So water from your refrigerator would still need to be boiled. However, if you have a reverse osmosis system or a UV filtering system, you can drink the water without boiling it.

What about ice in my refrigerator’s ice machine?

The ice is only filtered with a carbon filter, so it would not be safe to use unless the ice was made before any water pressure issues. If you have electricity and would like ice, you should boil the water first and then make ice with it, Hayden said.

How long do I need to boil my water and what about using the water for other things?

The following instructions come from TCEQ:

Water for drinking or other human consumption should be boiled and cooled prior to use. The water should be brought to a vigorous rolling boil and then boiled for two minutes.

Tips for boiling water:

    • Fill a pot with water.
    • Heat the water until bubbles come from the bottom of the pot to the top.
    • Once the water reaches a rolling boil, let it boil for 2 minutes.
    • Turn off the heat source and let the water cool
    • Pour the water into a clean container with a cover for storage.

Suggestions for different types of water use:

    • Preparing and cooking food
      Wash all fruits and vegetables with boiled water that has cooled or with bottled water.
      Bring water to a rolling boil for 2 minutes before adding food to cook.
      Use boiled water when preparing drinks, such as coffee, tea, and lemonade
      Wash food preparation surfaces with boiled water.
    • Feeding babies and using formula
      Use ready-to-use baby formula, if possible.
      Prepare powdered or concentrated baby formula with bottled water. Use boiled water if you do not have bottled water. Disinfect water for baby formula if you cannot boil your water.
      Wash and sterilize bottles and nipples before use.
      If you cannot sterilize bottles, try to use single-serve, ready-to-feed bottles.
    • Ice making
      Do not use ice from ice trays, ice dispensers, or ice makers.
      Throw out all ice made with tap water.
      Make new ice with boiled or bottled water.
    • Bathing and showering
      Be careful not to swallow any water when bathing or showering.
      Use caution when bathing babies and young children. Consider giving them a sponge bath to reduce the chance of them swallowing water.
    • Brushing teeth
      Brush teeth with boiled or bottled water. Do not use untreated tap water.
    • Washing dishes
      Household dishwashers generally are safe to use if the water reaches a final rinse temperature of at least 150 degrees or if the dishwasher has a sanitizing cycle.

      To wash dishes by hand:
      Wash and rinse the dishes as you normally would using hot water.
      In a separate basin, add 1 teaspoon of unscented household liquid bleach for each gallon of warm water.
      Soak the rinsed dishes in the water for at least one minute.
      Let the dishes air dry completely.
    • Laundry
      It is safe to do laundry as usual.
    • Pets
      Pets can get some of the same diseases as people. It is a good idea to give them boiled water that has been cooled too.
    • Water filters
      Boil tap water even if it is filtered. Most kitchen and other household water filters typically do not remove bacteria or viruses.

How long will the boil water recommendation last?

Hayden said for some areas, people may need to boil water for several days. SAWS has more than 200 pump stations, and technicians need to get to all of them and test the water.

If there is contamination, the pipes will need to be flushed and the water retested.

But she doesn’t expect that the entire city will need to boil water for days.

“What we will do is announce the areas that are clear as they are up to full power and get tested,” she said.

Will there be water distribution?

As of Thursday morning, SAWS officials were still working out a water distribution plan. They will announce the plan later on Thursday.

If I have low water pressure or no water, should I turn the water off at the meter to avoid problems when the water pressure is restored?

Unless you know you have a broken pipe or a leak, it’s not necessary to turn the water off at your meter, Hayden said.

When the water is restored, it will be pushed out at your normal water pressure rate.

“The pressure in the system will gradually build up, it’s not going to turn on like a fire hose,” Hayden said.

Hayden said engineers have a strategy for which pump stations to bring up and when to bring the pressure up.

“Your water pressure won’t be any higher than it normally is,” Hayden said.

Is there anything I should do when full pressure is restored and I get an all-clear on the water quality from SAWS?

When the boil water recommendation is rescinded, you will probably want to run your faucet for a short while to clear the pipes. There may be some sediment that needs to be flushed out.

You may also want to take the aerators off of your faucets and clear any sediment there.

Hayden said there is always sediment in our pipes because we have hard water in San Antonio. When the water pressure goes down, that sediment gets kicked up in the water.

How will I know if I have a water leak?

Other than the very obvious gushing water scenarios, you may discover you have a leaking or broken pipe if you find wet spots near your floorboard or on your carpet. You may also see damp spots on your walls or ceilings if you have a pinhole break.

When the temperatures warm up, you’ll want to check your irrigation system for leaks.

Another way to check if you have a leak is to monitor your meter. (Click here for instructions on how to do that.) If there is a lot of water running through your meter, you most likely have a leak. If the leak occurred somewhere on your side of the meter, you will need to call a plumber or fix it yourself.

For leaks outside your property line and on the city’s property, you would call SAWS.

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