MLGW says water issues will continue until end of the week

Published: Dec. 26, 2022 at 6:52 PM CST|Updated: Dec. 26, 2022 at 9:00 PM CST

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - MLGW customers traded one utility problem for another over the Christmas holiday.

While tens of thousands now have power after finding themselves in the dark from a round of rolling blackouts, they now have to boil water under a new water advisory and may have to do so until the end of the week.

“Last time it took four to five days,” said MLGW President and CEO Doug McGowen when asked about a ballpark timeline for water restoration. “We’re probably on a similar timeline, here.”

Monday, McGowen spoke before the media in his first in-person address since near-zero temperatures swept through the Mid-South.

“The TVA grid is stable now,” McGowen said, addressing the blackouts. “We’re well below the maximum power, so the probability of anything like that happening in the near future is low.”

The MLGW CEO said there were 22 water main breaks in Memphis and 19 had been fixed as of midday Monday.

The next phase is getting to all of the individual leaks at homes and businesses.

One of the biggest problems was business fire suppression systems, some using 10 inches of diameter pipes, which McGowen said is as large as some of the water mains.

“We’ve cut off 177 leaks for businesses and homeowners, and we have about another 122 that we’re working on. That’s just from (Sunday) night,” McGowen said.

The Memphis utility says they expect to see more leaks added to their radar as the temperature rises above freezing.

The lack of water pressure has become so low that tankers from surrounding fire departments have been requested to come into the city and assist Memphis hospitals with their water pressure.

In our requests for comment to all of Memphis’ hospitals, Baptist, Methodist and Le Bonheur returned our requests saying they’ve been able to remain fully operational.

“If we need more we will request more,” McGowen said.

The water issues also come at a bad time for Simmons Bank Liberty Stadium, getting set to host tens of thousands of fans for the upcoming bowl game between Kansas and Arkansas, those fans also planning on staying in Memphis hotels.

McGowen said he’s working on alternatives to get through the bowl game.

“Principal for me is to get everyone water, then to increase water pressure and then we’ll worry about lifting the boil order a little later,” he said.

For residents we spoke with, who were in line to receive bottled water at the MLGW water giveaway at the utility company’s Lamar Avenue office, they wished more planning had gone into the preparation.

“I’m watered out,” Pamela Brown said.

“I’ve got a little bit of water running but it just takes so long for anything,” said Lester Turner.

Both Brown and Turner said they appreciated the gesture of free bottled water from MLGW and the donations of others, but are hoping the infrastructure in the future are in better shape to handle another winter freeze. This is now the third straight winter that’s put MLGW customers without one or more utilities for an extended period of time.

“Why is that?” Brown asked. “They should’ve been preparing all along for situations like this, just like (the city) when it gets ready to snow.”

“When I was a young kid, growing up, we had snow and everything, but nothing has ever been like this,” Turner echoed. “Can (MLGW) get it straightened out? Help the people to survive and be stronger.”

Infrastructure was one of the main positives McGowen highlighted at Monday’s press conference, saying investments in the system’s pumps have allowed MLGW to push more water out.

Even if the water has to be boiled, for now, it’s best to have some water at a lower pressure than no water at all during this time.

“If this was last year, I would not have been able to tell you that,” said McGowen. “Our water pumping stations are responding. We’re trying to increase the pressure in order to get some water through to people, but we realize we’re pushing more water out through those leaks while we’re doing that.”

Since MLGW is expecting more leaks to be reported, they’re asking the public to do their part and not leave any leaks unaddressed.

Anyone who notices a leak in a pipe in their home or place of business is asked to call 901-528-4465.

McGowen released a statement on Monday night addressing all MLGW customers saying that the company’s team and contracted partners have continued to find and fix broken water mains, and to secure water for residential and commercial customers who have broken pipes that are causing leaks.

So far, MLGW has repaired 20 water main breaks and is working on another 7.

Customer service technicians have secured water for 461 residential and commercial customers and are working on securing another 180 tonight, according to McGowen’s statement.

MLGW’s team has secured water at 24 commercial facilities because of broken Fire Protection (FP).

The statement also urges that business leaders, to the greatest extent possible, enable office workers to work remotely on Tuesday and Wednesday of this week in order to prevent serious plumbing issues in the workplace.

Residential customers can help by not dripping water in homes when temperatures are above freezing.

Click here to sign up for our newsletter!

Click here to report a spelling or grammar error. Please include the headline.