On Tuesday afternoon, Milledgeville resident James Rayford made his first trip for free water.
Standing behind a stainless steel, 18,000-gallon tanker, waiting for Milledgeville Fire Fighter Patrick McCulley to help fill his two plastic containers, Rayford said he’s actually here on behalf of a friend.
“I’m getting this for someone who is sick and unable to get out [of their house],” he said.
When asked how the boil water advisory is affecting his household, Rayford responded that he has water coming out the tap at home, but he’s still waiting on the test results that’ll let him know it’s safe to drink.
Rayford is not alone in this Middle Georgia city of 19,000. Residents throughout the city have been forced to boil water for drinking, cooking and bathing since Saturday. That’s when a 14-inch, cast iron, low pressure water line feeding one of the city’s tanks ruptured, causing authorities to shut down the entire water distribution system and place the city under a boil water advisory until further notice.
Three days later, residents and city officials alike are awaiting the results of water sample testing conducted by the Georgia Environmental Protection Division and Milledgeville Water Department to determine whether or not the water is safe for consumption.
The Water Department began collecting samples Monday evening, beginning a 24-hour waiting period in which samples will be monitored for contaminants and the growth of harmful bacteria. Should the tests come back clean, city officials could lift the boil water advisory for some portions or the entire city water system as early as Tuesday evening.
This disruption in Milledgeville’s drinkable water supply has been just short of a crisis. Officials from the City of Milledgeville and Baldwin County held a joint press conference Sunday afternoon to inform media about the boil water advisory, a water conservation notice and the closure of restaurants and dining establishments that do not have a pre-approved contingency plan to sanitize cooking equipment and serve food without clean water.
Colin Duke, Environmental Health Manger for Baldwin County, estimates that his office served 110 temporary closure notices to restaurants in Milledgeville. The closure notice also affected the Baldwin County School System and Milledgeville’s three colleges—Georgia College, Georgia Military College and Central Georgia Technical College, which closed all but essential services Monday. The Baldwin County School System and Georgia College remained closed Tuesday.
The advisory also affected health services in Baldwin County. Hospital officials confirmed that the Oconee Regional Medical Center went on diversion status at approximately 2:50 p.m., Sunday, diverting non-emergency admissions to Macon and surrounding hospitals while Milledgeville is under the boil water advisory. ORMC’s emergency room and other services remained open to treat emergency cases and other patients who are unable to travel to another hospital.
But back at the tanker where Milledgeville residents can fill containers full of sanitized water, Milledgeville Fire Department Lieutenant Jeff Miller said the excitement surrounding the water advisory is beginning to subside.
“Sunday we had over 100 people come out; Monday was about 75; and today, it’s dropped to about 10 or 15,” he said. “We’ve been out here since 7 this morning, and we’ll be here until 9 tonight.”
Milledgeville authorities are expected to announce the results of the initial round of water sample testing after 8:30 p.m., Tuesday.