UPDATED: Boiled water advisory lifted; Lessons learned from W’burg water outtage
UPDATE: Officials have lifted the Boiled Water Advisory for the city of Williamsburg.
Running water is something most of us take for granted. We use it for drinking, bathing and cleaning. It is always there.
Except when it isn’t, like this past weekend in Williamsburg when a pair of broken intake pumps at the water treatment plant left the entire town without water for a significant portion of Sunday, and for some people parts of Saturday and Monday too.
Williamsburg Mayor Roddy Harrison promises that city officials are taking steps to ensure this never happens again.
“We are kind of trying to figure all the steps that lead to what happened,” said Harrison, who updated the Williamsburg City Council on water situation during its monthly meeting Monday. “I hate that it happened and we are going to work to make sure it doesn’t happen again. We will have protocol and back-up and steps and preventative maintenance to make sure this doesn’t happen again.”
City officials started having some problems with the raw water intake Friday evening, and about noon Saturday the pumps quit working altogether.
In layman’s terms, Harrison said the raw water intake pumps essentially burned up. City officials are still waiting to hear back exactly what was wrong with it.
Harrison said officials think mud and silt got into the two intake pumps due to high water when the river was up causing the problem.
“We should have had a back-up plan. We are working on that right now,” Harrison said.
By 6:56 p.m. Saturday, city officials had issued a boil water advisory.
Harrison said that at the time the boil water advisory was issued, about 80 percent of the town still had water and sufficient pressure in their lines.
“It had more to do with the amount of pressure in our lines and so to be on the safe side, I went ahead and called Frankfort for the boil water advisory,” Harrison explained.
Harrison said that there was an intake pump from Atlanta, which was supposed to have been here late Saturday evening. Given installation time, officials thought they would be pumping water again by midnight.
“During this time, we weren’t pulling any water. People were using it, and it just ran out,” Harrison noted.
When a new raw water intake pump finally arrived, officials soon discovered that it was the wrong pump.
Harrison said that city maintenance workers along with Les Moses from the Cumberland Falls Water District and Albert Mahan from the Whitley County Water District were all working on the problem at that point.
Initially, officials thought that they might be able to get some fittings and make the pump work, but they soon learned this was impossible.
City officials were then told that a temporary bypass pump could be sent, which would be here by 5 a.m. Sunday, but it turned out the bypass pump didn’t arrive until 9:30 a.m.
By noon the bypass pump was running.
By 8:45 p.m. Sunday, city officials notified residents that water was being pumped into the water treatment system, and out to customers, but people with water were urged to use it sparingly in order to help water tanks fill so water could get to those living in the upper elevations of town.
A second outage occurred about 9 a.m. Monday when a sensor on the bypass pump quit working. It took about two and one-half hours to get a replacement part and get it installed.
Even though officials had water pumping most of the day Monday, officials sent out alerts Monday afternoon and evening encouraging residents with water to conserve so that water tanks could fill and water pressure build up so water service could resume at homes with higher elevations in town.
About 2 p.m. Tuesday, Harrison said that the bypass water pump had been replaced with a larger pump that is pumping about 1,300 gallons of water per minute, which is close to normal.
Some people at higher elevations in town, such as Highland Park and Mt. Morgan, were still without water as city officials said it was a matter of waiting for the water tanks to refill.
The boil water advisory will remain in place until city officials know what has been restored to all residents, then samples will be sent off for testing, but the boil water advisory probably won’t be lifted until at least Wednesday, Harrison said.
The outage affected the entire town or very close to it at times, but not the surrounding districts.
The outage caused the closure of many Williamsburg restaurants Sunday, the Kentucky Splash Waterpark and possibly other businesses.
While it was fortunate the outage happened on the weekend instead of a weekday, Harrison said it was a bad weekend for it to happen as Williamsburg was hosting the girl’s state softball tournament.
“It was at the worst possible time,” Harrison said. “The restaurants were making good money. The hotels were filled up. The girls were here. We had this big softball tournament and then we ran out of water. I feel really bad.”
Harrison said city officials notified the Cumberland Falls and Whitley County water districts early about the problems, and they increased the amount of water they we getting from Corbin City Utilities to make up for Williamsburg’s lack of water production.
“The outskirts I think stayed in water,” Harrison added.
Harrison noted that city officials will get both intake pumps fixed. The city may purchase a bypass pump or spare intake pump to have as a back up, but Harrison said that will largely be contingent on cost.
Harrison said that he hopes to have a price tag on the repairs in about one week.
Harrison said he is afraid to even take a guess on how much the outage cost the city directly.
“There are going to be some changes made to make sure it doesn’t happen again,” Harrison added.
Harrison noted that much of the information Williamsburg officials have sent out on the water outage has been on the city’s REACH Alert system in addition to social media.
“If you are not aware of issues involving the city, then you need to sign up for REACH Alert. It is free. The city pays for it. You will get notices that there is a line break at so and so and it will be off for two hours,” Harrison said.
The REACH Alert notifications are sent out via automated telephone calls, text messages to cell phones or e-mails.
Up to four devices per household can be registered to receive alerts.
Williamsburg residents can also register by going to www.reachalert.com.
“It takes less than one minute to register,” Harrison said. “You can choose between a voice call, if you just have a land line, or you can have text, if you have a cell phone, or you can have e-mail if you have a computer.”