Drip…drip…drip. That’s the sound of the District’s infrastructure savants driving you batshit with conflicting reports about the expansive petri dish that is the city’s water-supply system. Boil, don’t boil; drink, don’t drink—it just depends on the day. Over the course of three days in the Washington Post, Commissioner of Public Health Harvey Sloane seems to be having some clarity problems of his own:
July 3: “As a precaution, we recommend that the water be boiled for persons with compromised immune systems.”
July 4: “I think the water is safe, and it is safe for drinking. There is no emergency.”
July 5: “I’m not going to sit around and have people having contaminated water, for God’s sake.”
Responding to studies showing that unhealthy levels of fecal coliform had compromised District tap water, Sloane issued an advisory on July 3 that the very old, the very young, and the very sick should boil their water. The mayor’s office concluded that Calcutta-esque infrastructure problems might not be the ticket on one of the biggest tourist weekends of the year, and ordered Sloane to cancel the water alert in a hastily called July 4 press conference. The following day, the Army Corps of Engineers failed to get the spin and said they “have to do something dramatic to punch this thing down.” The Corps proceeded to dump massive amounts of chlorine into the system, which will hopefully kill the microorganisms and give even the smallest wading pool that chlorine-scented cachet.
The message—and the District’s water—remains murky: Sloane seems to be saying that District residents should boil water, unless his directive to do so gets him in hot water, in which case they should just belly up to the tap, until he decides to rescind his rescinding of the water alert. Let’s all drink a toast to political foolishness amidst massive infrastructure collapse. —David Carr