Columbus boil-water advisory lifted

City's water safe to drink, utilities director says

3:30 p.m. Saturday:

A city well contaminated with E. coli has been shut down and disconnected from the public water supply, allowing Columbus City Utilities to lift a nearly 24-hour boil-water advisory, the utility director announced Saturday afternoon.

“The Boil Water Advisory is lifted and customers in Columbus City Utilities service area can resume using tap water for all purposes. Columbus City Utilities water quality is proven safe,” according to a notification from the water utility just before 3:30 p.m. Saturday.

All five test samples that were taken Friday from a city well at the Bartholomew County 4-H Fairgrounds, at County Road 200 and Jonesville Road (State Road 11), showed contamination of fecal material, said Keith Reeves, director of the municipally owned water and sewer utility serving Columbus.

Although all five samples tested positive when results became known on Saturday, Reeves said he received permission from the Indiana Department of Environmental Management to lift the boil-water advisory because the contaminated well had been taken out of service Friday afternoon and as such was isolated from the remainder of the city water supply.

City water elsewhere in the system showed no signs of contamination, Reeves said.

The advisory had also affected customers outside of the City of Columbus.

  • Southwestern Bartholomew Water Corp. issued a boil-water advisory Friday night for its customers, since it purchases most of its water from the city.
  • Eastern Bartholomew Water Corp. issued a boil-water advisory Saturday afternoon, as a precaution since it too buys some of its water from the Columbus utility, a representative said.

Lifting of the Columbus advisory means the water is safe to consumer in the outlying areas, too.

Read more details in Sunday’s edition of The Republic.

11 a.m. Saturday update:

Columbus City Utilities took five new water samples Friday afternoon and expects to have results from those tests by late afternoon Saturday.

A decision could be made to extend or cancel the city’s boil-water advisory at that time, said Keith Reeves, director of the municipally owned water and sewer utility over the past 20 years.

The Republic will post updates with new information as it becomes available.


Story published in Saturday’s edition of The Republic:

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.

What is E. coli contamination

E. coli contamination is a fecal indicator showing microbes whose presence indicates water may be contaminated with human or animal wastes. This contamination can cause short-term health effects including diarrhea, cramps, nausea, headaches or other symptoms. The microbes cause a special health risk for infants, young children and the elderly and those with severely compromised immune systems.

Anyone experiencing these symptoms is advised to seek medical help immediately.

Boil-water order

All customers in the Columbus City Utilities water system should be boiling their water for one minute and letting it cool before using it for drinking, making ice, preparing food or washing dishes.

If you do not want to boil the water, city officials advise using bottled water until the boil water order is lifted.

For more information

If you have a severely compromised immune system, have an infant or are elderly, you may be at increased risk from drinking contaminated water and should seek advice from your health care provider about any symptoms. General guidelines on ways to lessen the risk of infection are available from the Environmental Protection Agency’s Safe Drinking Water Hotline at 800-426-4791.