Boil-Water Rule Rattles National Harbor Plans

Guests of Gaylord National Resort at National Harbor said they received voice mails and notes slipped under their door warning them of the water issue.
Guests of Gaylord National Resort at National Harbor said they received voice mails and notes slipped under their door warning them of the water issue. (By Bill O'leary -- The Washington Post)
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By Nelson Hernandez and Christy Goodman
Washington Post Staff Writers
Monday, January 19, 2009

The note that hotel management slid under doors during the night surprised guests of the glitzy Gaylord National Resort who had poured in from across the country for the inauguration.

"Dear Guests," it said. "We are writing to inform you of a local water emergency . . . "

Orders followed: Don't drink the tap water. Be aware that authorities have "advised against bathing and showering if anyone in your party has open wounds, cuts, or a depressed immune system."

Work crews with the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission restored water service yesterday to most of the 90,000 homes and businesses in Prince George's County affected by Saturday's break of a 42-inch water main in Temple Hills, but many people were advised to boil their water through tomorrow night as engineers test the water for safety. A WSSC spokesman said the main has been repaired but, as a precaution, will not be brought back into service until it is filled with water and the water is tested for bacteria.

The water advisory could complicate inaugural party plans in Prince George's, where scores of charter buses were arriving yesterday. At National Harbor, the massive development where the Gaylord is located, restaurants were boiling their water, and at one, Potbelly Sandwich Works, there were no soda-fountain drinks. Smaller private parties reported that although their food would be catered, they were stocking up on hand sanitizer and bottled water.

The balls at Gaylord National Resort should be largely unaffected by the boil order because, like most high-end hotels, it has an in-house filtration system for water used in food preparation, ice machines and dishwashers, said Amie Gorrell, a spokeswoman. The purpose of the system is usually to make the water taste better, but in this case, it allows the hotel to continue operations as normal, she said.

"This really only impacts the guests who may be staying in our hotel rooms," Gorrell said. "It's a bummer that this had happened, but I'm confident that with everything we have in place, it should be a negligible impact."

Guests at the Gaylord hotel said they received voice mails and two notes slipped under their doors.

"We have bottled water in our rooms, so I wasn't very concerned about it. It didn't alarm me that much," said Katie Schneider of Evanston, Ill., who is here for the NCAA convention.

"It looked fine. I was drinking water from the tap before they sent the advisory," said Dee Morris of Alexandria, who said she was staying there to escape the inauguration traffic as well as to attend tonight's Black Tie & Boots Inaugural Ball, a Texas-style hootenanny with at least 11,000 guests.

"These things happen," she said. "We have let our infrastructure sort of go to hell."

Officials blamed freezing weather and aging pipes for the break, which snarled traffic and slowed emergency crews. The 42-inch pipe, built in 1965, is not considered old, but it rests in acidic soil that has weakened other pipes in the area, said Mike McGill, a WSSC spokesman.

Workers will do two consecutive 24-hour-long tests of the water system to ensure that it is free of bacteria, McGill said.

The boil-water advisory affects most of southwestern Prince George's, including Fort Washington, National Harbor and parts of Temple Hills, Rosecroft and Oxon Hill.

Water that would be consumed in any fashion, including water used for washing dishes, brushing teeth or making ice, should be boiled for at least one minute, McGill said. Residents who want to see whether they live within the boil-water zone should check the WSSC's Web site,, McGill said.

Staff writer Matt Zapotosky contributed to this report.

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