Water service to be restored

By Thomas Wilson
star staff
twilson@starhq.com

  After more than three weeks as a dry gulch, a Keenburg community neighborhood may finally have running water once again.
  Water River Regional Water Authority (WRRWA) Director Michael Hughes said the North Elizabethton Water Co-Op expected to restore water service by Wednesday night to the 14 to 18 residences affected by a water line fracture that occurred over three weeks ago.
   "The new water line has been installed," Hughes said on Wednesday. "Hopefully if we ever have to face that situation again we'll be quicker on our feet."
   The situation began on the weekend of Sept. 11-12 when North Elizabethton utility workers were attempting to replace a broken water line along Mays Road. Officials with the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation were notified by utility officials of a chemical substance found dumped along the road on the water line. TDEC launched an investigation to identify the substance and determine its source of origin.
  Hughes said testing of the chemical substance and heavy rainfall incurred from the remnants of Hurricane Ivan contributed to the long delay of restoring water service to customers. He also said chlorine testing of the water supply had been conducted to erase possible bacteria contamination in the new water line.
   Marc Braswell of TDEC's Division of Solid Waste Management in Johnson City said Wednesday that a laboratory's testing results found the petroleum-based substance consistent with chemicals found in gasoline or gasoline possibly used in paint thinner. He said lab analysis could only estimate the chemical's exact identification.
  "Whether it contributed to fracturing of the pipe is an open question," Braswell said.
  Braswell said an investigation into the source of the chemical remained ongoing, but he declined to comment on the nature of the investigation.
  The chemical was not believed to have entered the water supply, according to TDEC.
  Mays Road residents have lamented the lost water service and little help from utility officials while the line repair was under construction. Bottled water was delivered and shower facilities were made available for local residents at Keenburg Elementary School. However, some residents who spoke with the Star over the past three weeks were dissatisfied with the long delay, using bottled water, and little communication from utility officials.
  Hayes Construction replaced the cracked water line with 2,800 linear feet of a new 4-inch water line. New water meters for each utility customer were also set as were lateral lines connecting the new line to home meters.
  Hughes said the final bill just to replace the water line cost between $50,000 and $100,000. He said the WRRWA was seeking a federal grant through the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Rural Development division to fund the water line replacement.
  Hughes said broken lines are common in the North Elizabethton water system where they date back to the 1970s. He added that the 1970s-era water line was prone to breaking and practically nonexistent in construction of modern water systems.
   "It is not the best thing to have here," he said.
  The North Elizabethton utility purchases potable water from the city of Elizabethton. The utility is required to monitor water quality for its customers and submit a report to TDEC.