Workers cover a Guangzhou Automobile Group Co.’s (GAC) vehicle ahead of the 2019 North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) in Detroit, Michigan, U.S. (Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg)  

Broken Water Main Douses Detroit Car Show-Goers With Cold Shower

(Bloomberg) -- Early participants of the Detroit auto show got their day started with a cold shower.

A 42-inch main line burst at about 11 p.m. Saturday, impacting water service to downtown Detroit just as the city began to host its annual car extravaganza. The high-profile event had already taken a blow when several major carmakers skipped the event this year. Then a wide swath of downtown lost water -- or experienced low pressure -- after the water main broke.

An event aimed at projecting excitement and innovation began with echoes of another water crisis, in nearby Flint, where lead-tainted water drew national attention starting in 2014.

In Detroit this weekend, the regional water authority issued a boil advisory until further notice, warning against using the water to drink, brush teeth or prepare food without killing potential bacteria first. Hotels posted warnings for guests, who woke up to find water that was not clear and wouldn’t get very hot.

“Right now, we’re just having very low water pressure and lukewarm water,” said Chanda Ford, a guest services representative at the Crowne Plaza hotel. “A lot of people had to take cold showers today.”

It was, at best, an inconvenient development for the city as it plays host to the North American International Auto Show. The event will be missing key brands, including Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Audi, Porsche, Jaguar and Land Rover in the last year it’s being held in January. Starting in 2020, the show will move to June.

Water pressure was restored after workers rerouted water around the break, said Gary Brown, director of Detroit Water and Sewage Department. It may take until Wednesday or Thursday for the boiling-water alert to be lifted, he said.

After the break is repaired, the system has to be flushed, treated with chlorine and then tested twice for bacteria over a two-day period. In the meantime, people can use the water to shower and flush commodes, he said.

“It’s out of an abundance of caution,” Brown said.

Hints of Flint

After the crisis in Flint, another city steeped in automotive history, Detroit tested more homes for lead than was required by the Environmental Protection Agency. The city is below the national average on particles, Brown said.

“We have no concerns with regards to lead at all with this situation,” Brown said.

Cobo Center, where the show is held, has shut off fountains and posted signs on other taps. Bottled water and ice was trucked in, said Amanda Niswonger, a spokeswoman for the show’s organizers.

The only concern for people attending the show would be drinking from taps or water fountains, Niswonger said.

“Our attendees drink bottled water, so it’s really a non-issue,” she said.

Terry Rhadigan, a spokesman for General Motors Co., whose headquarters in downtown Detroit is also affected by the break, said: “The show will go on.”

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