Shutdown of Siesta water supply for repairs and maintenance appears to have gone smoothly

Staff reports few calls, all related to ‘boil water’ notices

Given the fact that, as of midafternoon on Feb. 23, Sarasota County staff had received few calls related to the eight-hour shutdown of water service to approximately 1,600 customers on Feb. 22, all appears to have gone well with the county work that necessitated the action.

The affected persons and business were on on the northern part of Siesta Key, including part of Siesta Village.

On Feb. 15, affected residents and property owners received a notice from the county’s Public Utilities staff, advising them that their water would be shut off on Feb. 22 from 12:01 a.m. to 8 a.m. — approximately eight hours — so workers could undertake “critical repairs to leaking valves and replace multiple fire hydrants.”

The county did issue a precautionary “boil water advisory” to all those customers, which would take effect when the water service was restored.

“While the county has no reason to believe your drinking water was contaminated, Florida law requires that drinking water providers issue precautionary boil water advisories to customers affected by shutdowns in water mains,” the advisory explained. “This is a routine precaution,” it pointed out, adding that residents and business owners had “no need to be alarmed.”

Then the advisory noted, “Over the next several days, the county will collect a series of samples in the affected area and analyze them to ensure your drinking water wasn’t contaminated by potentially harmful bacteria during the service interruption. Once the county has completed its analysis, you will be notified by another automated telephone call that the boil water advisory has been cancelled.”

That notification usually occurs 72 hours after a water line has been placed back into service, the advisory said.

“While the advisory is in effect, the county advises you to boil all tap water intended for drinking, preparation of food, washing of food utensils or for first aid, making sure the water is brought to a rolling boil for 1 minute. Boiling your tap water disinfects it, destroying any harmful microorganisms,” the county message added.

Individuals with questions, or persons who needed more information, were encouraged to call Sarasota County Public Utilities Customer Service at 941-861-6790.

On the morning of Feb. 22, county staff notified the affected customers that their water service indeed had been restored by 8 a.m. that day. Staff reminded those customers that the precautionary boil water notice was in place and that members of the community would be updated after the notice had been rescinded.

In response to a Sarasota News Leader question about whether county staff had received any complaints, Drew Winchester, communications and outreach coordinator for the Public Utilities Department, wrote in a Feb. 23 email, “Our contact center received two calls yesterday to check on the status of the boil water notice.” He added that he also had received “a few calls” from businesses in Siesta Village, which were checking on the boil water notice.

Winchester noted, “We did go door to door in the village to personally let the businesses know [about the water shutoff], so that may have reduced the number of potential complaints/calls.”

During a Facebook video interview with Winchester last week, Andy Ward, manager of the Public Utilities Department’s Field Operations Division, explained that the work county staff would be undertaking was critical. A recent problem with a water main valve had prompted the initiative, he indicated.

As a blog of Blair Supply Corp. a New York company, explains, “Any public water works supply system has pipework designed to distribute water to homes and businesses. These large pipes are often referred to as water mains, while the water supplied is known as mains water. Water mains maintenance is typically performed by local governments, and paid for by property taxes and water rates.”

The blog adds, “Arterial water mains, also referred to as primary feeders, transport water from a treatment plant to the areas of major water use in a community. Secondary feeders, or water lines, connect to the mains and are usually smaller in diameter. These pipelines are typically installed within public right-of-way in order to provide access to service connections for potential water users.

“While there are different types of water distribution networks,” the blog continues, “these pipelines are typically installed in a gridiron pattern in order to allow water circulation in interconnected loops. This also enables any damaged pipe sections to be isolated and repaired without unnecessary disruption to the community water usage.”

During his remarks to Winchester in the Facebook video, Ward of Public Utilities pointed out that county staff has to be able to isolate sections of water mains to maintain them and to make repairs, as needed. Staff also has to ensure that fire hydrants are in good working order, he said, for the safety of residents and visitors.

The Utilities Department staff, Ward continued, had made the decision to undertake more extensive maintenance at one time on Siesta, instead of having to implement a series of shutdowns of the water system over time.

The county’s 2023 fiscal year budget book explains that the Field Operations Division of Public Utilities consists of three teams responsible for operating and maintaining the utility’s potable water transmission and distribution systems, as well as the wastewater collection systems, “to effectively meet the County’s strategic objectives and provide essential water and wastewater services.”

The budget document adds, “The Field Repairs and Construction team is responsible for inspecting, maintaining, repairing, and improving the distribution system and collection system. This team also completes new construction projects including capital improvements and operates a full sanitary sewer cleaning and televising program with highly specialized equipment.”

One of the Public Utilities Department’s objectives for this fiscal year — which began on Oct. 1, 2022 — is to “Enhance Public Utilities Infrastructure Reliability.”