On February 9, a water main break off of Highway 6 caused possible water contamination throughout the City of Oxford. A precautionary notice to boil all water was sent out to citizens and businesses that receive their water from the city. Water samples were sent to the Mississippi Department of Health to determine whether or not the water was safe to drink.
While the boil-water notice was lifted Sunday morning — two days earlier than initially predicted — several Oxford businesses were affected by the inconvenient break.
Taco Bell, Abner’s Famous Chicken Tenders, Buffalo Wild Wings and Starbucks were among the establishments affected. Trying their best to not deter weekend business, these restaurants worked to accommodate their customers in light of the situation.
Trevon Boyd, the general manager of Taco Bell, said the boil-water notice could not have come at a more difficult time.
“On Friday, we were already having maintenance issues,” he said. “With the added water main break issue, we had to close for a few hours.”
Taco Bell opened during their normal hours on Friday, but was forced to close later that evening. Business continued as usual the following morning. During the hours Taco Bell did operate, no soft drinks were served.
“We still sold food as usual, but we weren’t able to sell any type of drinks from the fountain machines,” said Boyd. “We did serve bottled waters to customers who asked, but they were charged for them.”
Similarly, both the West Jackson and University Ave. locations of Abner’s Famous Chicken Tenders were affected by the water main break. Meaghann Stokes, manager of the University Ave. location, said that while neither of the restaurant locations closed, staff were required to take several precautions.
For Abner’s, the largest drawback was the inability to make tea. Stokes said customers were very unhappy to hear that tea was unavailable, but it was out of their control.
“Customers complained a lot about the lack of drinks,” said Stokes. “We bought water bottles and canned sodas to sell to customers, but we had no way of making tea, which is what most people wanted.”
In addition to not serving fountain drinks and tea, Abner’s also had issues with some of its chicken.
“We had to throw away any chicken that was previously marinated,” Stokes said. “That chicken could have been contaminated, so we had to get rid of it all together.”
With the cost of water bottles, canned sodas, and discarded chicken, Stokes estimated a loss of several hundred dollars.
Miranda Crosby, a Buffalo Wild Wings employee, said they also came across issues due to the water main break.
“Because we couldn’t wash dishes with the water, we ran out of glasses and silverware,” she said. “Managers had to buy plastic silverware, and we couldn’t serve draft beer because we ran out of mugs.”
Buffalo Wild Wings operated during usual business hours, but had to make several changes to their usual schedule to accommodate the loss of water. Like Abner’s and Taco Bell, water bottles and canned drinks had to be purchased. Customers were charged for these drinks, but were able to obtain free water from jugs that Buffalo Wild Wings provided. In addition to canned drinks, the restaurant also had to buy ice. Crosby said ice was brought in from Starkville to be served to guests.
After the boil-water notice was lifted, Buffalo Wild Wings continued business as usual, and even gave out remaining water bottles and canned sodas to customers for free.
With no way of boiling water to make drinks, Starbucks was closed for the entirety of the boil-water notice. Employees were sent home, and asked to not return until water was safe to drink. Ava Street, a Starbucks barista, said that as soon as Starbucks got word of the water main break, business had to be halted.
“We don’t have a stove to boil water on,” she said. “Our espresso and coffee are made with water, and the machines don’t brew either at a boiling temperature.”
Starbucks was unable to make food or beverage sales until 4 p.m. Sunday afternoon.
Nearly 240,000 water main breaks occur in the U.S. annually, typically due to freezing temperatures. Contaminating drinking water with debris and E. Coli, these breaks require citizens to boil all water that will be ingested. In Mississippi, Jackson has run into the most trouble with water contamination, with 226 water main breaks this year.
This article was submitted to The Daily Mississippian from an advanced reporting class.