The city has issued a boil-order until Sunday morning for all customers on Columbus city-provided water after tests detected E. coli in the distribution system and a city well.
Southwestern Bartholomew Water Corp. also issued a boil-water advisory for its customers, since it purchases most of its water from the city.
An Everbridge notification about the boil-water advisory was sent to registered recipients in Bartholomew County at about 7:58 p.m, Bartholomew County Emergency Management Director Shannan Hinton said.
Hinton said she learned of the boil order from The Republic’s Facebook page, then contacted Columbus City Utilities Director Keith Reeves, who had issued the order late Friday afternoon.
The boil-water order will be reassessed after additional testing is completed to ensure that the contamination, which occurs from fecal matter, is no longer in the city’s water system, Reeves said.
All Columbus customers should boil their water for one minute and allow it to cool before drinking it, making ice, using it in food preparation or washing dishes, the city utility advised Friday afternoon. Bottled water is also recommended for customers who do not want to boil their tap water.
The boil order, a first for the city utilities in many years, was required after city workers doing routine testing on Wednesday discovered a sample from the city’s distribution system pipes that tested positive for E. coli when results were returned on Thursday. The city routinely tests eight places in the distribution system around the city for water quality, Reeves said.
A followup test Thursday in the same area did not show any E. coli in the distribution system, and the test results were reported as required to the Indiana Department of Environmental Management, Reeves said. As a precaution, the state requires a test of all the city’s water supply wells and that test showed a positive E. coli reading Friday in one of Columbus’ 15 wells, Reeves said.
That well, located in the Bartholomew County Fairgrounds area on the southwest side of the city, was immediately taken offline and is not supplying city water at this time, Reeves said.
However, until the city can retest all the wells, including the fairgrounds well, the boil order is in effect, he said. That testing could take as long as 24 hours, he said.
The boil order could be rescinded depending on the results of the re-testing of the wells, Reeves said. So far, all subsequent testing has shown no contamination in the system, he said.
“We haven’t had a test like this in the past 30 years,” Reeves said.
The city experienced heavy rainfall on Wednesday into Thursday, but Reeves said he did not believe that was the cause of the contamination or the water testing positive for fecal matter.
The wells are constructed to withstand a 100-year flood without surface water entering the groundwater wells, he said.
The mystery is how that is happening and why, Reeves said, adding that the fairgrounds well has been taken offline and is not supplying water to any households at this time.