The recently cancelled Hydraulic Flushing Program is yet another example about how the city thinks that it's doing a good job of communicating about something, but falls short in the details.
This is something that hasn't been done before - flushing all of the water pipes in the city to remove dirt and build-up, so that water can run more easily, and more cleanly.
Rather than doing a trial run, the program was announced with great fanfare, and a letter was sent to all residents. Communications glitch number 1 - I don't know what was in your letter, but the letter that came to my house referred to an enclosed pamphlet for more detail. Unfortunately, there was no enclosed pamphlet in the letter that came to my house.
Notice of when the program was to be in your area was to be given to each household 24 hours in advance, advising that the next day pipes would be flushed between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m., and that water was not to be used during these 12 hours.
Problems were evident from the start of the program, which began on the West Flat. Someone involved turned a valve the wrong way, with the result that water was turned off, to several homes, without any warning. This meant that residents had no chance to stock up on water for any purpose. When the water came back on, it came with a boil water advisory - again, no chance to stock up on water for drinking or cooking. After a number of phone calls and emails from the councillor for the area, the cause of the problem was identified, along with a promise that it wouldn't happen again.
Well, it did. On Friday, September 16, I got a phone call from a resident in the 100 block of 10th Street East - their water was off, with no warning, and he couldn't get through to City Hall to find out why. It turned out that the same thing had happened - a worker had turned a valve the wrong way. For several residents, that meant no water, without any warning. I then started getting calls from residents on 8th Street - same thing, no water, no warning.
Late that afternoon, Andrea and I were enjoying the warm afternoon on our deck. I went to the front of the house to check something, and on my way back, I saw a yellow door knocker, which had been blown off and landed on a corner of the deck. It was pure luck that I saw it.
The message on it wasn't exactly clear. The next day's date, Sept. 17/16 was written in ink at the top, then the generic notice was printed below - that this was 24 hour notice, that the hydraulic flushing program was now in our area, and that we were advised not to use water during the 12 hours, from 7 until 7, until flushing was complete.
What wasn't clear was exactly when the flushing was to happen. The 17th was a Saturday, and the program was only supposed to run on weekdays. On the other hand, perhaps they were trying to make up for lost time. The notice would have been much more informative had it said something like "Flushing will occur in your block on this date." In any case, we set aside some water for drinking and cooking, and the next day minimized our use of water. Late in the day, we once again were enjoying the sun on our deck, when I saw a worker on the avenue turning a valve. I asked him if the flushing was complete; he responded that they hadn't started on our block yet, but it would probably happen on Monday.
Earlier than day, on my way to the Farmers' Market, I had seen a notice tucked into the door of a closed business in the 100 block of 10th Street. This one was even more confusing - the original date on it was September 18, but over the 18, 16 had been written. If I had been the recipient of that notice, I would have been even more confused.
On Monday we did the same minimizing water use - I didn't even shower or change into a suit for the council meeting, where I raised my concerns about how the whole program was being carried out, particularly the lack of notice or information to the people whose water was turned off. And I asked that for those residents who were under a boil water advisory, that testing of those areas be prioritized so that they would be inconvenienced for as short a time as possible.
The next day, city administration announced the suspension of the program. Originally they said that it was because winter was coming (like they didn't know that when the program was announced); later the city manager admitted that they hadn't communicated things well, and that problems had happened. No apology to the residents.
I hope that we've learned from this that when we're going to try something new, we should do a small test run first. If a problem like someone turning a valve the wrong way happens, increase checks so that it doesn't happen again. Make notification of residents clear, and timely, and when something goes wrong, let them know as quickly as possible, and even make a gesture like providing bottled water. Such actions would go a long way in convincing residents that we take our responsibilities of providing such basic services as clean water seriously, and when something goes wrong, we will do our best to make it right.
And good communication is a key part of this. Council just approved the hiring of a second communications person (I did not agree with this, as I don't think we should be adding positions without seriously considering whether the position is truly needed, and if it is, then let's have an open competition). Let's hope that at the very least, we develop better processes for communicating with residents.
"The single biggest problem in communications is the illusion that it has taken place." - George Bernard Shaw