State of Emergency declared over Great Lakes Water Authority water main break

A state of emergency has been ordered for several Southeast Michigan counties following a catastrophic water main break that impacted the water access of nearly a million people over the weekend. 

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced the order for Lapeer, Macomb, Oakland, and St. Clair counties due to a 120-inch break in a pipe at the Lake Huron Water Treatment Facility in Fort Gratiot. The boil water advisory announced by the Great Lakes Water Authority remains in effect for seven communities and about 130,000 residents.

"We are drawing on every resource we have and taking every action necessary to get impacted families the help they need," Whitmer said. "On Saturday, I activated the State Emergency Operations Center to coordinate our response efforts, and with today’s state of emergency declaration, we are ensuring that state resources will be available as long as the impacted communities need them. In times of crisis, Michiganders stand together. We will do what it takes to get through this."

State of emergency declarations make special resources available to impacted communities. Both state police and the Homeland Security Division will coordinate efforts for affected homes. 

Meanwhile, residents in the village of Almont, Bruce Township, Burtchville Township, Imlay City, Rochester, Shelby Township, and Washington Township should continue boiling their water before using it for drinking, cooking, or washing dishes. 

"There was no warning this break was going to occur, there was nothing that preceded it in our operations that we can see that point to the cause," said Suzanne R. Coffey, GLWA Chief Executive Officer.  "It’s not something that we expected. So, it happened in a very unanticipated way, but we’re on it. We are working on it around the clock. We’ve got boots on the ground right away. We’ve got people in place to do the assessments that need to be done, and we’ll continue to keep our foot on the gas pedal."

Coffey said the GLWA has a pipe assessment program, which will help them understand why this water main failed, identify other vulnerable pipes, and how to prevent breaks from happening in the future. 

Crews removing water from the break site (photo: GLWA)

At one point, the water main break affected 930,000 people and nearly two dozen communities. Since the break, water pressure was restored to multiple cities, GLWA said. The water authority said it accomplished this by changing the direction of water flow that's pumped into the facility. 

Boil advisories are frequently ordered for communities whose water pressure is lost, which can lead to the of harmful bacteria. Boiling the water for a minute will kill any organisms that may have grown in the water.

Water pressure won't be fully restored for at least two weeks to impacted cities. A new pipe is currently being shipped to Michigan and will take a week to install. Another week will be needed for water quality testing before the advisory can be lifted.

For residents, it's another headache to manage amid a growing list of public health hazards. 

READ MORE: Fix to massive pipe will take two weeks, GLWA officials say

"It's just another thing we're going to have to press on for, we're going to have to take precautions like with everything else going on," said Josh SImmons. 

The impacted Lake Huron Water Treatment Facility in Fort Gratiot Township.

"A water main from the Great Lakes Water Authority broke recently and is impacting residents living in the 36th District of Bruce Township, Shelby Township, Washington Township, and also surrounding areas," said Representative Terence Mekoski (R – Shelby Township) in a statement.

The boil advisory has also led to water bottles flying off the shelves of grocery stores.