It didn't take long for the Big Flush to begin.
Greater Boston residents pushed water usage well above the norm today as they turned on the taps after Governor Deval Patrick announced the end of the "boil-water" order put into place on Saturday after an MWRA pipe failure.On Monday, when the boil order was in effect, the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority reported its flow rate was 150 million gallons per day. After Patrick's 6:45 a.m. news conference, the rate skyrocketed to 284 million gallons per day, said Ria Convery, an authority spokeswoman.
"The water usage spiked right after the press conference,'' said Convery, who added the usual flow rate is 180 million gallons per day. "We have an informed public.''
At the news conference, Patrick said the water supply was now clean and safe for all purposes. He said he was relieved that repairs to the pipe that could have taken weeks were accomplished within 72 hours. He also promised a review of how the breach occurred.
"Now that service has been restored, we will work with the MWRA board to investigate the cause of this event to prevent anything like this from happening again in the future. If there is fault to be found, we will find it and we will hold those responsible accountable," Patrick said.
As part of that search for answers, members of the State Police Underwater Recovery Team and the Marine Section are heading to Weston this morning to search the Charles for remnants of the coupling or "collar" that failed, said David Procopio, State Police spokesman.
"The MWRA wants to recover that piece to help with the investigation,'' he said. "We are going to put divers in the river and may also use side scanning sonar from a boat in hopes of locating it.''
He said the use of the State Police was not a signal that the inquiry into the pipe failure had turned into a criminal investigation. "We have trained divers, we have a trained recovery team, we are trained in the use of side scan sonar,'' Procopio. "We are just lending our assistance.''
The decision to lift the order, which required residents to boil water for a minute before using it for drinking or cooking and sent hordes of people racing to the store for bottled water, came after more than 800 water samples at 482 locations were tested, the governor's office said. The tests showed no contamination that could threaten public health.
"If there were a sink in here, I would take a glass from the tap and drink it myself. I'm very confident," Patrick said at his news conference in Chelsea this morning.
The state issued instructions to residents on how to flush their water systems to make sure that any possibly contaminated water in their home plumbing is removed.
He thanked a variety of people, ranging from state and federal officials who worked on restoring water service, to the National Guard and the Teamsters who helped distribute bottled water.
State officials reported Monday that workers had successfully repaired the rupture in the massive water main in the town of Weston that had caused the crisis. The 10-foot-diameter pipe was a crucial link in the MWRA system, which brings water from a central Massachusetts reservoir east to Boston.
In Washington Monday, President Obama signed a disaster declaration, clearing the way for federal reimbursement of up to 75 percent of the cost of responding to the crisis. The state has not yet tallied how much it has spent on such costs as alerting residents, repairing the damage, and buying truckloads of bottled water that were still being distributed Monday night to the elderly and other vulnerable populations.
The coupling connecting the two large pipes broke Saturday morning. The rupture, near the intersection of the Massachusetts Turnpike and Route 128, spilled 265 million gallons of water and pushed enormous amounts of soil into the Charles River.
Workers poured a concrete encasement Monday over the newly welded steel collar reconnecting the two sections of pipe to ensure that it would not fail again. Emergency repairs went far more quickly than authorities had expected, and by 6 a.m. Monday, the state said all the water flowing into affected communities was once again coming from the Quabbin Reservoir in central Massachusetts.
But the officials had warned people not to drink from faucets just yet because they feared the supply might still include water from the Chestnut Hill Reservoir, used to supplement Greater Bostonís water supply over the last few days. The Chestnut Hill water might contain harmful bacteria or might have an unpleasant taste from the large chlorine dose added to treat the backup supply.
There are multiple theories for what might have caused the pipe rupture. Charles Button, the MWRA chief engineer, said one theory is that the bolts on the collar exterior could have rusted off, but that would be unexpected because the collar was installed just seven years ago and the regionís soil is not particularly corrosive.
An alternative theory is that heavy rains in recent months eroded the soil underneath the pipe, leading the collar to break. But Button said there was no evidence of such erosion.
The search for a cause has been complicated because workers have not yet found the steel collar, which washed away when water began gushing out of the pipe.
Button and other engineers suspect it is nearby, buried in the Charles River under hundreds of cubic yards of sediment that now rises above the river surface near the rupture site. Officials hope to start excavating the sediment mound today.
It is also possible that there was a problem with the design, construction, or installation of the pipe collar, which is a large version of a standard component of public water systems.
Al Bonfatti, manager of Harding and Smith, a Walpole-based construction company, said that his firm has installed collars for several large MWRA projects, but that he was unsure whether his company installed the one where the break occurred.
"If there was a defect, it would not have passed quality control testing," he said. "The whole thing has me puzzled."
House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo, who has called for an investigation of what went wrong, said he would wait until "things settle a little bit" before convening hearings.
Environmentalists said the rupture highlights the need for greater attention to water infrastructure. There is an estimated $8.5 billion needed to ensure clean drinking water in Massachusetts, advocates said.
A new state commission, the Water Infrastructure Finance Commission, is hoping to find a way to fix crumbling pipes, older water-filtration plants, and antiquated monitoring equipment. The panel is scheduled to hold its first meeting tomorrow.
"People turn on the tap, and they don't think about where their water comes from and the cost that goes into maintaining clean water," said the commission's chairman, Senator James B. Eldridge, an Acton Democrat. "If anything comes out of what happened this weekend, I hope that people are thinking about that more."
Noah Bierman, Carolyn Johnson, Sean P. Murphy, and Maria Sacchetti of the Globe staff contributed to this report.
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