Thousands of San Francisco businesses and residents were greeted with a surprise Thursday morning when they turned on their faucets: no water.
An unforeseen combination of events led to a water outage Thursday that affected mostly the northern and eastern parts of San Francisco — from Fisherman’s Wharf to the Bayview district, including the downtown, Civic Center and South of Market areas — leaving customers with no water for about one hour.
As water flow was being restricted at The City’s second largest reservoir, the University Mound Reservoir in the Excelsior district, for seismic improvement work, a contractor accidentally broke a major water main in the Mission district at 22nd and Valencia streets, causing the widespread water outage, according to the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, which oversees The City’s distribution of drinking water.
Businesses across The City — from hair salons to gyms and restaurants — had to turn people away, cancel appointments or significantly alter their services.
Employees at the Starbucks on Powell and O’Farrell streets in Union Square couldn’t make any drinks with water, including espressos and Frappucinos. They also couldn’t wash their dishes for about a half-hour.
The Hotel Union Square on Powell Street offered to send guests to the company’s sister hotels to shower or use restrooms.
Most members of the Sports Club/LA on Market Street decided to skip their workouts, said Mariela Ellis, a gym employee.
Stylists from the Gina Khan Salon on Maiden Lane purchased 30 to 40 gallons of water at a nearby store. "We had our shampoo bar full of clients who needed their hair washed. They got cold Crystal Geyser shampoos," said Gina Khan, the salon owner. "It was crazy. It was not good for business."
The SFPUC learned of the water outage at 11:30 a.m. Thursday and was able to restore water service to the affected businesses and residents by early afternoon, according to SFPUC General Manager Susan Leal. She issued an apology to those inconvenienced by the water outage.
The restriction of the water at the reservoir was undone and the water main break was quickly isolated to restore water service. The water main was repaired Thursday afternoon.
The SFPUC said the restriction of the water at the reservoir is the type of work that has gone on previously with no incident. "It shouldn’t have been a problem. It was bad luck, that it was," SFPUC spokesman Tony Winnicker said.
"The City blew it. Fortunately it got back on pretty quickly," Board of Supervisors President Aaron Peskin said. It’s unclear whether businesses would file claims against The City for any losses. "It was a very short water shortage. Hopefully the lunch crowds in my district were able to be served. But we will handle any and all claims," Peskin said.
To reduce the risk of a water outage in the future, the SFPUC said any restrictions in the water flow would be done during the graveyard shift, when water demand is at its lowest.
There were no impacts to The City’s fire hydrants, which are hooked up to a different system, according to Leal.
The work being done on the University Mound Reservoir in the Excelsior district is part of a $4.3 billion program to seismically repair and improve the San Francisco and regional Hetch Hetchy water delivery system.
The University Mound Reservoir holds 140 million gallons of water, and about 30 million gallons of water daily flow out of the reservoir, serving San Francisco residents and business.
Staff writers Bonnie Eslinger, Adam Martin and Alexandria Rocha contributed to this report.