Hundreds of Lewiston residents under boil water order after city water reservoir busts open

A woman with red nails holds a glass of Coca-Cola with a pink straw in front a jukebox.
Cherry Coke can still be had at the Wayback Cafe on the east side of Lewiston, but the soda and ice have to be trucked in after a city-owned water reservoir failed, releasing 3 million gallons of water across the town. (Credit: Michele Baldeck)


There’s still Cherry Coke on the menu at the Wayback Cafe on the east side of Lewiston. 

The 50’s-style diner serves up a ton of the sweet drinks. But now the soda and ice have to be trucked in. Wayback Server Michele Baldeck says the whole flooding situation is forcing the cafe to buy extra supplies.

“It’s not hard, it’s just a pain in the patoot – having to purchase extra water and soda to serve,” she says over loud music in the background. 

The Wayback Cafe and hundreds of Lewiston residents and businesses are under a boil water order after a city reservoir ruptured and sent three million gallons of water into blocks of neighborhoods and businesses near the eastern edge of the city. 

The rupture was reported in the early morning of Wednesday, Jan. 18. 

Now, restaurants, residents and even several schools – including 650 children – are having to make due with bleached, boiled or trucked-in bottled water and ice. 

The covered reservoir was built in the 1920s, and is inspected by the city every five years. The last inspection of the water facility was about five years ago, city officials say. The state of Idaho doesn’t inspect water storage facilities, or dams less than 10 feet tall. There is still about 1 million gallons of water holding in the ruptured reservoir. 

The reservoir is an earthen-berm concrete-lined structure. 

“This is not something that you ever want to have to do,” says Carol Maurer, the public information officer for the City of Lewiston. “That’s a tough thing to have to speak to residents that have lost belongings or a treasured item.”

Maurer says there was no loss of life. She says city officials are still scrambling to offer a water filling station, inspect the facility and assess the damage to homes and businesses.

The Lewiston City Council declared an emergency at a special meeting this week and unanimously voted to spend up to $200,000 for materials and services to repair or replace water system infrastructure without needing to follow formal bidding procedures. 

The boil water order is in place for some residents and businesses, but the water is being regularly tested and is clean so far, Maurer says. Some portion of residents have been moved to a  different secure water system – so they are now not affected by the boil water order. 

Idaho state dam inspection officials say the Gem State’s infrastructure – like all of America’s infrastructure – is aging quickly.

“No one should ever notice this stuff when it’s working properly,” says John Falk, manager of dam safety program, for the Idaho Department of Water Resources. “Think about how many times you drive across a bridge, or you just turn on the water and know it’s good to drink.”