Memphis Light Gas and Water addresses ‘unprecedented’ water supply issues after cold weather


MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The president and CEO of Memphis Light Gas and water said Friday there was no indication that the city’s water was in danger due to low water pressure in the system, a day after the utility issued a precautionary boil-water notice.

“We have no indication of any contaminants in our water system,” JT Young said.

MLGW will continue to test water, but the measure was put in place in compliance with state regulations, he said.

The utility is also asking customers to conserve water through noon Monday, at least.

WREG first found out MLGW would be issuing the advisory Thursday afternoon around 2:30. Officials confirmed to WREG they were working on a press release.

Rumors continued to circulate as MLGW then went live on Facebook around 4:00 p.m. to talk about helping small businesses with loans during the pandemic, ignoring customers questions about their water and what they need to do.

At 5:26 p.m., three hours later, MLGW finally posted details about the advisory.

MLGW responded to some of those Facebook comments, after the Facebook live was over and the advisory was posted, and it’s still working to get their message out and dispel rumors.

Several days of sub-freezing temperatures reaching near zero have frozen pipes in homes and under streets and put a strain on the system. Low pressure in the system and water main breaks could allow bacteria to enter the system, MLGW said.

However, no such contamination has been detected, MLGW and health department officials said.

MLGW has repaired 60 mains since Saturday, and is currently working on five, Young said.

Some of the wells that supply the city froze, said Nick Newman, vice president of engineering. They have been thawed and they are being repaired, but without those wells pumping, pressure in the water system is reduced. That’s bringing down water levels in reservoirs.

More than 100 out of 140 wells are currently operating, Newman said.

Customers should boil water for three minutes, or purchase bottled water, until further notice.

More information on the boil-water notice and how to keep safe

Young called the current situation “unprecedented.”

The public utility serves 257,000 customers in Memphis and much of Shelby County. Bartlett, Collierville and Germantown are served by independent water systems.

In about 1,000 cases, MLGW had to turn water off to residential customers because of burst pipes, Young said.

However, MLGW representatives stressed they are not turning water off to any residential customers because of unpaid bills.

“We are not planning to shut off residential water services,” Young said.

They also have not recommended that customers fill up bathtubs and jugs with water.

Young said they may ask some commercial customers, such as the Allen power plant, to curtail their water usage.

David Sweat with the Shelby County Health Department said the boil-water measure was preventative and proactive, and the department supported the utility. Water is still safe for hand-washing and showering.

The health department issued a new health directive Friday afternoon ordering businesses including restaurants to comply with the boil-water order or supply water in some other way.

The health department on Friday afternoon said restaurants should shut down until the boil-water notice is lifted. The department later clarified that restaurants could remain open if they can comply with the boil-water order or use bottled water.

The water pressure problems forced Rhodes College to move its students to hotels in Germantown and Collierville, the private college said in a release Friday. The college said its bathrooms were no longer functioning.

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