By LYDIA BERGLAR
With temperatures reaching single digits over Christmas, the Dade County water system encountered water pressure and broken pipe issues. Low water pressure and water outages eventually led to a boil notice issued by the Dade County Water & Sewer Authority on Dec. 28.
Sherri Walker, general manager for the authority, reported that most of the issues were in the northern end of the county. “The biggest issues we’re having, especially in the Murphy Hollow area, is that tanks are so low that there isn’t enough pressure to get water up and over that hill into Murphy Hollow. We lowered some of the tanks on the southern end to provide more water at that end.”
A combination of dripping faucets and broken pipes from the freeze led to the low water pressure. Walker explained, “We’re a pretty small plant. Most plants do over 10 million gallons a day, but we’re a 3.8 million gallon a day plant which is usually enough to keep up. We normally push out about 2 million gallons per day, but during this cold snap, if every customer dripped at a quarter gallon a minute, that would be 2.7 million gallons a day. We couldn’t keep up in the tanks. ”
She continued, “So many customers had hemorrhaging leaks which we cut off as we found them. On Dec. 27, we found a resident on Lookout Mountain that used 88,000 gallons. On Dec. 28, we found a house that would normally use 2,000-3,000 a month using 304,000 gallons. Water was pouring out of their house, and we couldn’t get a hold of anybody [at the house] so we cut it off.”
Leaving faucets dripping is recommended to prevent freezing pipes. Walked explained, “We asked customers to leave their faucets dripping. That’s what they needed to do. Over Christmas weekend, the tank level started to fall and then plummeted.”
Issues of this magnitude are unusual for the county. Walker said, “I’ve been here 17 years, and this is unprecedented. Matthew Dodd at EPD (Environmental Protection Division) said, ‘You’re not the only ones. Butts County, Millidgeville, and several other counties in Georgia are doing exactly what you’re doing.’ They’ve never seen it this bad state-wide.”
As temperatures rose the week between Christmas and New Years, the water tanks began to refill. “It’s nothing but playing catch up now,” said Walker. “We’ve got to get the tanks filled back up for our customers to have water again.”
The plant is a 2/47 operation, and employees worked over Christmas. “We’ve had guys out over Christmas Eve and Christmas. Our media director, Ashley Castleberry, has worked all weekend long answering questions,” said Walker.
Areas of the county that use pump pressure were largely unaffected, but Walker reported that many customers get their water from a tank. “The elevation in that tank creates the pressure as it drops. Whenthere’s little water in the tank, there’s no pressure.”
Walked added that the authority has discussed how to plan for situations like this, but they walk a fine line between too little water and too much. “If you have bigger tanks, that’s great for when something like this happens, but for the majority of the time when this isn’t happening, you have too much water in the tanks. With not enough turnover, the water gets old and all the chlorine evaporates.”
The boil water advisory was issued on Dec. 28 for “Valley locations North of the City of Trenton.” The notice read, “The advisory is being issued out of an abundance of caution – there is the potential a health hazard may exist due to microbial contamination in these areas without positive pressure.”
Walker explained, “When you lose pressure in a pipe, bacteria can start to grow. When the pipes fill back up, we flush them and do bacteria tests. It takes about 24 hours to run those tests, so even once we get water back to those areas, it’ll take a day or two to get positive tests back.”
Walker predicted that the issues would not be resolved until after New Year’s weekend.
The advisory noted, “The advisory is in effect until Dade County Water & Sewer Authority has done the appropriate testing to be confident that there is no longer a public health concern. Customers will be notified immediately when the Advisory is lifted. Once the Advisory is lifted you should flush all faucets for a minimum of two minutes before using for drinking or food preparation.”