Residents frustrated as precautionary water boil advisory continues

by Ashley Skokan, originally posted on June 2016


COLUMBIA — Frustration and concern are mounting as Thornbrook and Steeplechase residents continue to endure a precautionary water boil advisory with no long-term solutions in sight.

The Columbia Water and Light Department issued the first advisory on June 13, and on Monday, the department extended it indefinitely. City staff believes the low water pressure is caused by residents’ simultaneous use of water irrigation systems.

“We’ve had staff out there every morning counting the number of people irrigating during those times,” Ryan Williams, assistant director of the Water and Light Department, said in reference to the hours of 4 to 6 a.m., when water pressure in the area is dropping below 20 pounds per square inch. “It seems to be that roughly 200 systems is kind of, for whatever reason, the threshold for what can be sustained.”

On June 15, a voluntary irrigation schedule was released for Thornbrook and other nearby subdivisions, including Bradbury Estates, Creek’s Edge, Steeplechase and Wyndham Ridge, according to previous Missourian coverage.

But after nearly a week on the irrigation schedule, there has been little improvement, Williams said. He said that over 600 homes in the area are affected by the advisory.

There are about 500 irrigation systems in the neighborhood.

Few residents have been following the irrigation schedule, Williams said, so Water and Light is looking to find a way to better communicate with residents and encourage them to avoid irrigating at the same time.

Thornbrook resident Julie Ryan said she was initially following the voluntary irrigation schedule but has since shut her sprinkler system off. She said some of her neighbors have done the same, hoping it would help lift the advisory.

Ryan said she’s been using bottled water rather than boiling water from the tap.

Fifth Ward Councilwoman Laura Nauser represents the area and lives in the Thornbrook neighborhood. She has been following the irrigation schedule and encouraging her neighbors to do so as well.

“It’s a temporary fix to get us through the summer,” Nauser said.

Both Ryan and Nauser said that while no solution has been found, Water and Light has been good about keeping them updated on the problem.

“They’ve been very good,” Nauser said. “They’ve certainly kept me informed of all of the issues.”

Is it just irrigation?

Ryan has lived in the neighborhood for over six years. She said Thornbrook has never had this irrigation problem before, even during the severe drought of 2012.

She wonders whether recent construction in the area or the construction of the Beulah Ralph Elementary School could also be contributing to the low water pressure.

“My concern right now is that the focus remains on it being primarily an irrigation issue, and the longer this goes on it doesn’t truly seem to be an irrigation issue from what we can tell as residents,” Ryan said.

Williams said he doesn’t believe the new school has been using any water yet. He also doesn’t believe the nearby home construction is the problem.

“This is kind of a unique situation for us, we haven’t really seen this anywhere on our system before that the irrigation demand would be so high to cause pressure problems within such a localized area,” Williams said.

Nauser said that the water pressure problems match with the days people irrigate.

“It is Monday, Wednesday, Friday when most of these people have these problems, so that is a typical watering pattern,” Nauser said.

Ryan, however, remains skeptical.

“I don’t believe this is an issue of that we just want green grass,” Ryan said. “It’s a bigger problem, and it points to an infrastructure problem and water supply and delivery problem, and that’s where I know other residents and I are most concerned.”

Surrounding subdivisions

Ryan questioned why only Thornbrook and Steeplechase are subject to the boil advisory, yet surrounding neighborhoods are asked to follow the voluntary irrigation schedule.

Williams said that’s because the other subdivisions are at lower elevations than Thornbrook and Steeplechase, so their water pressure isn’t affected.

“If we can solve the issue with getting people to stagger their watering times, that is the quickest short-term fix,” Williams said.

The city has checked Ryan’s water about four times, looking for bacteria. A Monday news release said Water and Light has yet to find any contaminated samples from the neighborhood.

Williams said Water and Light is meeting with local irrigation companies to discuss how to help residents who don’t know how to reprogram their irrigation systems to the schedule. He said residents can contact their irrigation provider for help.

Water engineers are looking for longer-term solutions that would allow residents to use however much water they want, whenever they want, Williams said.

“A longer-term fix is obviously going to take capital improvement and funding to be able to do, and that would all have to meet council approval to do that,” Williams said.

“We are trying to work with the tools that we have and get those residents and neighbors to hopefully cooperate with one another to help them be released from this precautionary boil advisory.”

Supervising editor is Scott Swafford.

Learn More