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September 11, 2013

Dos Palos shuts off water overnight – again

Leila Newmann said she’s spent much of the week driving 20 minutes to Los Banos or Firebaugh for dinner, because of the boiled or bottled water order in effect here since Saturday. 

“It’s an inconvenience,” the 64-year-old Dos Palos resident said, adding she drove to Los Banos to use her son’s shower when the water was off. “It’s putting a damper on everything.”

Newmann is one of the roughly 7,500 people getting potable water from the city, which halted the water filtration system during the weekend because of a green algae clog.

The city of Dos Palos again cut off water to residents in the area about 9 p.m. Tuesday — this time officials decided it was best to close the pipes when the fewest number of people are using it. The water was back on around 5 a.m. Wednesday, City Manager Darrell Fonseca said.

“By turning it off, we are able to maximize the pressure and make more treated water,” Fonseca said. “We were at a critically low amount.”

The water treatment plant monitors the amount of water used per hour, Fonseca said, so officials picked the time after most residents have eaten dinner and children have gone to bed. 

Shutting the plant off also kept any automatic sprinklers from running during the early morning hours, Fonseca said. The city has asked residents to refrain from using water for anything deemed unnecessary, like watering a lawn or washing a car. 

The clog in the system slows the treatment of water flowing into the tanks, and thus water is used faster than it can be treated.

Stopping the filtration system also restarts the 72-hour countdown that the state Division of Drinking Water and Environmental Management requires while it tests whether the water is drinkable. Fonseca said the city is taking daily samples.

City employees and volunteers walked door to door this week and passed out both English and Spanish fliers, which ask residents to conserve water by only using it inside their homes. “Violators will be disconnected,” the flier stated.

Not being able to give clean water to his exotic birds Saturday bothered Robert Trevino, 62, of Dos Palos, but it was the flier that really irked him.

“I just started to get my grass green again, and then I get this note,” Trevino said, adding the trees in his backyard won’t survive the week without water. “It’s inconvenient, saying we can’t use the water. We pay for it, why can’t we use it?” 

Trevino said he is frustrated that the city didn’t replace the water filtration system before this problem arose. 

Fonseca said the state Division of Drinking Water and Environmental Management gave the city the authority to turn lawn sprinklers off. He said employees have not yet turned off any sprinklers, but instead are talking to homeowners who are still watering their lawns. 

“We’ve had very good cooperation,” Fonseca said.

The city hired contractors to upgrade the filtration system and add a bypass, plans Fonseca said were in the works for December. The contractors will start the work after approval from the state, he said.

While the boiled or bottled water order is an inconvenience for some, it’s hurting Blossom Street Diner owner Dave Kayanek’s bottom line. He said the diner was closed Monday and Tuesday, and he trucked in bottle water, soda and juice to be ready to open Wednesday. 

Business was sluggish Wednesday during the lunch hour, Kayanek said, which is not typical of most days.

“A lot of people are, I think, afraid of coming in and getting a product that’s not purified,” he said, adding the diner is following all Merced County Department of Public Health rules.

Officials recommend disinfecting surfaces and equipment with an approved sanitizer. 

Utensils and dishes cleaned by hand should be washed with approved sanitizer. Automatic dishwashers must be operating properly with at least 50 parts per million of available chlorine sanitizer or 160 degree water.

The department also recommends using hand sanitizer or antibacterial gel, and that stores and restaurants should shut off all machines that make fountain drinks or ice.

The department said only bottled water should be used as an ingredient for any food or drink.

All the residents cooking at home need somewhere to buy bottled water, and that’s good news for supermarkets like Town & Country Max in Dos Palos. 

Manager Ali Saleh said he was expecting seven pallets with cases of bottled water Wednesday, because shoppers are buying it twice as fast as a normal week.

Usually his shelf of 3-gallon bottles of water are full, he said, but he hasn’t been able to keep them stocked since Monday.

“Usually, like every two weeks, we get eight pallets or 10 pallets of water,” Saleh said. “We just got an order last week, and it’s already gone.”

Sun-Star staff writer Thaddeus Miller can be reached at (209) 385-2453 or


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