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Mid-city resident Dianne Mason, center loads a shopping cart full of water with help from her great-grandson Treyvon Tillery, age 9, right, into her truck at Costco in New Orleans, La., Thursday, Jan. 18, 2018. Boil water advisories are in effect for the east bank of New Orleans and Jefferson Parish and could last more than a day officials said Thursday morning.

Advocate staff photo by MAX BECHERER

Boil-water advisories were lifted across the New Orleans area's entire east bank by Saturday afternoon.

But people in New Orleans should think twice before they turn on the taps for very long, officials said.

The water may be safe to drink in New Orleans and Jefferson Parish, but the Orleans Sewerage & Water Board warned that the fragile state of the city’s supply means customers should use water only for necessities. Otherwise, pressure could fall far enough to trigger another round of water boiling.

The bittersweet announcement that water can, but in many cases shouldn’t be, used came Saturday as S&WB officials continued to struggle with low pressure in New Orleans’ water system — a problem that could be exacerbated by the need to clean filters at the water purification plant Saturday night.

“Lifting this advisory is good news, but we can’t stress enough how important it is for people to continue to limit the water they use,” S&WB Interim Executive Director Marcie Edwards said in a news release. “Please refrain from washing laundry or washing your car, or any high-volume water activities through the rest of the weekend. Please keep it limited to the most essential personal use as we work to raise water pressure.”

No such limitations are in place in Jefferson, where water pressure is at 50 pounds per square inch, parish Chief Operating Officer Keith Conley said in an email. That’s slightly below normal for Jefferson, but far above the 15 psi threshold for a boil advisory and higher than the New Orleans S&WB’s pressure on a typical day.

Boil-water advisories were put in place across the east bank of both parishes on Thursday as their water systems struggled to keep up with demand that had skyrocketed as a result of broken pipes and dripping faucets as freezing temperatures gripped the region the early part of the week.

That advisory was lifted for most of New Orleans on Friday night, and Jefferson Parish followed suit Saturday morning. The delay in Jefferson came because the parish had waited for water pressure to return to ideal levels before beginning the 24-hour testing process, Conley said.

The boil-water advisory in New Orleans East, which was first put in place Wednesday night, was lifted Saturday afternoon, meaning the water was safe to drink throughout the city.

But pressure remained well below normal in New Orleans, and officials warned that excessive use could push pressure low enough that there would again be a danger of contaminants getting into the water supply.

The utility blamed leaks both on private property and in the water system itself for the low pressure.

Any burst pipes under streets on on other public property should be reported to the S&WB at (504) 529-2837, and the utility urged private property owners to either repair their own pipes or shut off the water supply at their water mains.

With those continuing leaks and a spike in use from residents able to once again rely on their water system, the S&WB is currently pumping about 158 million gallons of water a day, up from its normal average of about 135 million gallons.

At its peak this week, before many leaks had been fixed and while tens of thousands of customers were running their taps, the S&WB was pumping up to 177 million gallons a day.

On top of that, filters at the S&WB's Carrollton water treatment plant are being clogged with grit from the Mississippi River, lowering the amount of water the plant can put out. Typically, the utility cleans those filters at night — when usage usually drops — in a process that takes an hour or two per filter.

But it put off some of that maintenance this week while running its system at full throttle to keep up with demand.

While some of those filters were cleaned Friday night, four more needed to be taken out of service for cleaning Saturday night, officials said. Doing so, however, means dropping water pressure further, both because less water can be cleaned and because some water has to be diverted to the cleaning process.

The S&WB has reached out directly to many large water users, including hotels, the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center and the Folgers Coffee Co. plant in New Orleans East, to ask them to limit consumption until the system is stabilized, Communications Director Rich Rainey said.

St. Bernard Parish officials continued to urge customers there to limit their water usage, and a boil-water advisory remained in place in much of St. John the Baptist Parish.  

Follow Jeff Adelson on Twitter, @jadelson.​