Nearly half of Charlotte impacted by ‘historical’ water main break

CHARLOTTE — Charlotte’s boil water advisory has been lifted following a massive water main break off of Remount Road Monday evening.

Charlotte Water officials confirmed early Tuesday that they had restored all water services but that the boil water advisory was still in place until 11 a.m Wednesday. The water main break, which happened around 5 p.m., impacted the airport, several neighborhoods and dozens of local businesses.

Video posted to Twitter by Hudson Hower showed the moments immediately following the water main burst, with plumes of water shooting at least 40 feet into the air.

(WATCH: ‘Massive wall of water’: Witness recalls capturing massive water main break on video)

Charlotte Water said the break happened along Remount Road, near Revolution Park. Hower lives just across the street and started recording when the pipe broke -- but not before calling first responders.

Hower told Channel 9 that he watched the water shoot into the air for at least 10 minutes, just before 4 p.m.

“There’s a giant wall of water and so we look up and sure enough, it’s about 60 feet -- just blasting through these trees,” he said. “I ended up calling 911 and saying, ‘Hey, there’s a massive amount of water coming out.’”

Hower said he couldn’t believe what he was seeing.

“I had no idea the effect that this kind of main water line would have on such a large scale of Charlotte,” he told Channel 9. “The video is crazy, it quite literally looks like there is a massive wall of water coming from nowhere.”

Another witness to the water blast, Julian Holland, recorded video from a different angle:

On Tuesday, Charlotte Water Director Angela Charles said the pipe that burst is 36 inches in diameter and was installed in 1955. Its role is to transmit water from the plant to the service area and that’s why so many people were impacted. She called Monday’s rupture “historical.”

Charles, who is in Chicago for a Water Environment Federation conference to receive the 2021 WEF Award for Collection Systems and speak on a national panel, said she wasn’t sure age was the cause of the pipe burst. She said the city has some cast iron pipes from the 1920s and 1930s that are still performing well.

Charlotte Water said about 6% of their system is at least 50 years old, and that the highest percentage (66%) was installed between 1990-2000.

Charles said that people who did not lose water do not need to act and that their water is safe to drink.

Did the city of Charlotte effectively communicate the water situation to residents?

It took nearly six hours for the boil water advisory to be issued following the rupture. Charlotte-Mecklenburg residents initially received a notice through CharMeck Alerts, the county’s emergency notification system, at about 7:30 Monday evening saying the city experienced a water main break.

It wasn’t until 9:30 p.m. that residents were placed under a boil water advisory -- which Channel 9 reporter Joe Bruno discovered was only communicated to residents via Twitter at 1:31 a.m., when most people were sleeping.

On Tuesday, Charles defended the response time, saying Charlotte Water was assessing the situation and trying to figure out whether it was needed.

“We feel like we responded quickly, but there is room for improvement once the decision is made to get information out to our customer base,” she said.

Councilman Larken Egleston agreed that the city’s communication with affected residents could use improvement.

“We’ve got to communicate more quickly,” Egleston said. “We’ve got to get information out through more channels, you know both traditional and new media type channels.”

(WATCH BELOW: Did the city of Charlotte effectively communicate the water situation to residents?)

Charles will remain in Chicago until the conference ends and in her absence, Charlotte Water said it had opened an incident command post and has maintained 24-hour staffing by an incident command team. Charlotte Water told Channel 9 that those incident commanders, which are deputy directors, have been in constant contact with Charles, as well as other community leaders.

Other municipalities have handled similar situations differently. After a major water main break in Rock Hill in 2019, it only took one hour for officials to issue the boil water advisory.

Rock Hill Deputy Manager Jimmy Bagley said that while the move was precautionary, communication during that uncertain time was crucial.

“The earliest that you can identify your problem and what it’s going to take to fix it, I think the better off you are with communication,” Bagley said.

Dr. James Amburgey, a professor at UNC Charlotte, said the public has the right to know about the potential for issues. But he stresses boil water advisories like this are just extra protection.

“All this water has been chlorinated, the pH has been adjusted,” Amburgey said. “So, I mean, the water should be totally and completely disinfected. And there shouldn’t be any issues.”

In Rock Hill, a reverse 911 message was sent out in 2019. In Charlotte, leaders relied on their emergency alert system that people have to sign up for. Some city leaders expressed an interest in reviewing if this is the best way to operate.

Charlotte Water gave residents who experienced low-to-no water pressure a 48-hour long advisory as part of what they say is a precautionary measure. Officials said crews were able to close valves and isolate the break and had restored service to those affected.

Charlotte Water officials began testing water samples Monday evening and will continue to test water samples for the next several days. Charles said results are expected by Wednesday.

The areas of Charlotte that experienced low water pressure were enclosed by:

  • North: From Brookshire Boulevard and Interstate 85
  • East: From W.T. Harris Boulevard and Monroe Road
  • West: To the Catawba River
  • South: To the state line.

Charlotte Water said they would be working to restore the system to normal operating conditions over the next 24 to 48 hours.

Officials also said that customers who were affected by low or no water pressure can boil water (including drinking, making ice, brushing teeth, washing dishes and food preparation) vigorously for one minute. Officials said it is OK to shower.

The boil water advisory was issued out of an abundance of caution, authorities said.

Water customers are strongly urged to conserve water whenever possible. The advisory remains in effect until Charlotte Water issues any further information.

ZIP codes impacted:

  • 28105
  • 28202
  • 28203
  • 28205
  • 28206
  • 28207
  • 28208
  • 28209
  • 28211
  • 28212
  • 28213
  • 28214
  • 28215
  • 28216
  • 28217
  • 28277

Department of Transportation crews examined the bridge over Remount Road and said they do not believe there is a threat to the traveling public or the integrity of the bridge.

The water main break also affected Charlotte-Douglas Airport, which announced in a statement on Twitter that there was little-to-no water pressure in the terminal. Airport officials said they were in contact with Charlotte Water to evaluate the situation.

“When we pulled up to the gate, the pilot announced there are no working restrooms, toilets, in the entire airport,” said passenger David Keen.

Sam Lodge, another passenger, said he was trying to make a connecting flight when the ground stoppage was issued.

“I’m cautiously optimistic,” Lodge said. “I mean, there’s always a rental car and drive. I’ll get there one way or another.”

Airport officials later confirmed that water had returned to airport bathrooms. The airport issued a ground stop just after the water main break was announced. It was lifted just before 8 p.m.

Charles said that Charlotte Water is investigating the cause of the break.

Frequently Asked Questions 9 (source: Charlotte Water):

What was the cause of the October 18 loss of water to residents?

Water main breaks can be caused by a variety of reasons. Charlotte Water will investigate to determine the cause of the break.

Is the water safe to drink? Should I boil my water?

If you did not experience a loss of pressure or water, your water is safe to drink. Until the advisory ends, customers who experienced a loss of water should boil water used for human consumption (including drinking, making ice, brushing teeth, washing dishes and food preparation) vigorously for one minute. If you live in the impacted zone and are not sure if your home lost water, assume a loss of water and boil water used for human consumption.

What should I do if the water is discolored?

If water is discolored, you should run the cold water tap for 10- 15 minutes or until water is clear. Iron particles settle out of the water and accumulate in the bottom of water mains. During a water main break or outage, these mineral deposits are dislodged and can cause cloudy or discolored water.

Is it safe to shower?

Yes. The advisory is a precaution for human consumption of tap water

What is Charlotte Water doing to evaluate the safety of drinking water after the break?

Charlotte Water monitors drinking water from more than 300 water quality stations throughout the service area. Technicians have taken samples for laboratory testing. Sampling will continue and will determine future guidance about the advisory.

To sign up for CharMeck Alerts, click here.

(WATCH BELOW: Boiling water advisory - What you need to know)