Rural Water Endures Blizzard to Find Leak that Left Two Communities Without Water

JAY VILLAGE, Maine – When a massive water leak drained the tanks of the Jay Village Water District and threatened to consume the supplies of the Livermore Falls Water District, experts from the Maine Rural Water Association worked through a blizzard to help locate the leak and restore water to the communities.

“I got the call on Monday,” explained MRWA Circuit Rider Peter Gautreau. “They told me they had a massive leak they couldn’t find and they’d been without water since Sunday.”

The leak had lowered the water level in the Jay Village tanks so that ice floating in the tank put pressure on a door and blew out the seals.

“They lost the entire tank,” Gautreau said. “They were in dire straits.”

Jay buys its water from the Livermore Falls Water District. The leak drew so much demand from Livermore Falls that is set off alarms at that utility.

“They throttled down the flow to Jay so they could maintain pressure,” Gautreau said.

The leak was estimated to be at least 800 gallons per minute. Still, they could not locate the leak, which showed no signs on the surface. The loss of pressure meant Jay Village was put on a boil water notice and forced Spruce Mountain Elementary School to cancel class.

The Circuit Rider spent the day using valves in the distribution system to isolate sections of the community and narrow down the location of the leak. He narrowed the search to a section of pipe between two valves near the Route 4 highway. He couldn’t locate the leak next to the busy highway.

Gautreau returned the next day with Circuit Rider Andy Gilson to try to locate the leak and make repairs. It had already snowed 18 inches.

“The snow made it very dangerous to be working on the road,” Gautreau said.

They advised the Jay Village utility on how to repair the seals on the water tank, then began searching for the leak with acoustic leak detection equipment. They searched for two hours, with the leak draining eight feet of water from the Livermore tanks, without finding the leak.

With more snow falling on the communities, new leaks opened in both Jay and Livermore. Gilson started locating those leaks, while Gautreau formulated a plan to locate the large Jay leak.

“At that point, our best bet was to have a contractor put in a valve halfway between our isolated valves to cut the distance in half,” Gautreau explained.

Contractors arrived Wednesday to install the valve, but opening the pipe only raised more questions.

“When they cut the pipe, it was full of water and with a leak that size, it should have been empty,” Gautreau said.

Gautreau and Gilson started widening their search for the leak, even drilling holes in the ground and using probes to search for water from the leak. They ultimately found an unknown valve.

“We ended up finding a mystery valve that was wide open, allowing the water to go to a dead-end road,” Gilson explained.

Once that valve was closed, they started backtracking through the system, isolating the leak and restoring water to the community. They restored service to 98% of the community, but still hadn’t located the massive leak.

It did narrow the possible location of the leak to a river crossing that supplied water to the Jay Village paper mill.

“It was one of the first things I asked,” Gautreau said. “To lose that much water and not have it show up, it was probably going into the river.”

Jay Village workers thought they had isolated the river crossing early in the process, but it looked like there was another valve that controlled flow to the river crossing. There was a meter pit near the river crossing that should help answer the question.

Thursday the Circuit Riders and Jay Village workers hiked through four feet of snow into a wooded area to locate the meter. Gautreau and Gilson used metal detectors to search for another valve. They located another unknown valve that controlled service to the river crossing. When that valve was opened, it was clear that the leak was in the river.

“You could see the water bubbling up in the river,” Gautreau said.

Despite several feet of snow and complications with finding valves, Rural Water’s assistance helped restore drinking water to most of the community and located the massive leak that lead to the emergency.

Rural Water Assists in Pump Repair; Prevents Hospital and Nursing Home from Losing Service

FAYETTE, Miss. – When the City of Fayette, Miss. lost its last booster pump, the community’s nursing home and hospital were in danger of losing service. Assistance from the Mississippi Rural Water Association helped restore water to the community and prevent a disaster.

The city was supposed to have three booster pumps and a service pump, but two of the booster pumps had been out of service for several months and the remaining pumps were not operating at full capacity. When the service pump failed, several sections of the community were left without water.

“We had to cancel school and my nursing home and my hospital were about to lose water,” said Fayette Mayor Londell Enoches.

The community began calling state agencies, looking for assistance. The Mississippi Emergency Management Agency had limited options because there was no declared emergency, but they referred the community to MsRWA.

Joe Grammer, a MsRWA Circuit Rider, traveled to Fayette and began to assess the situation.

“They had ordered replacement parts, but those wouldn’t arrive for several days,” Grammer explained. “The pumps weren’t operating properly – they had a damaged impeller or something else – so they would have to be rebuilt.”

The Circuit Rider started calling supply companies and local well drillers, trying to locate parts. A drilling company directed him to Precision Armature, an electric motor shop. A tech from Precision Armature came to Fayette to assist with servicing the motors and pumps.

“He helped get one motor working,” Grammer said. “We disassembled the pumps. Then we used the best parts – we picked out the best impeller – to rebuild one good pump.”

“We got the city back up before dark.”

After the emergency, Grammer continued to assist the system.

“They had an aerator that was off-line because it had a split in the bottom,” he explained. “Mississippi Rural Water helped them locate another aerator.”

The Fayette water system needs to add lyme to change the Ph of their water and make it less corrosive. When one of their lyme feeders broke, Grammer helped locate a feeder from another community that had recently upgraded their equipment and helped arrange for Fayette to purchase the used feeder.

The assistance has been critical to allowing Fayette to provide clean drinking water to their 1,600 residents.

“I have much respect for Mr. Grammer,” Enoches said. “His help has been very important. He’s a great asset for rural Mississippi.”

NRWA’s Region 8 Environmental Finance Center to Host Forum on April 16-17 in Casper, Wyoming

DUNCAN, Okla. – The National Rural Water Association’s Environmental Finance Center working in partnership with the EPA Region 8 office and the EPA Water Infrastructure Resiliency Finance Center will host a finance forum focusing on the needs of Region 8 communities on April 17-16 at the Ramkota Hotel and Conference Center in Casper, Wyo. The event will be held the two days preceding the Wyoming Association of Rural Water Systems annual conference.

Registration is free for this event. Register Now. 

NRWA’s EFC helps communities find effective and innovative ways to help address the growing costs of protecting public health and the environment in a sustainable and equitable manner. The EFC will provide finance-related training, technical assistance, finance studies, and other analytical support to help communities develop sustainable solutions to the critical “how-to-pay” issues associated with meeting environmental standards and goals.

Forum participants will learn how to increase financial viability and access to funding, improve customer satisfaction, develop operational resiliency, ensure water resource adequacy and build stakeholder understanding and support.

Attendees will include drinking water and wastewater utilities, water sector professionals, community leaders, technical assistance providers, and regional funders.

Sustainable Utility Management: 2 PM CST April 12

New Webinar: Sustainable Utility Management: 2 PM CST April 12
Register Now

This webinar will cover the Workshop in a Box and will help water and wastewater professionals prioritize the ten key management areas of sustainably managed utilities: product quality, customer satisfaction, employee & leadership development, operational optimization, financial viability, infrastructure stability, operational resiliency, community sustainability and economic development, water resource adequacy, and stakeholder understanding and support. We will discuss the attributes and walk you through any easy way to see your utility’s strengths and weaknesses. The webinar will also teach you how to develop an improvement plan and an action plan to address the weaknesses you identify.

NRWA Statement on Small Water Systems – False Narrative

The National Rural Water Association (NRWA) cautions policymakers against accepting the “false narrative” that small and rural community water systems are unsustainable and new federal statutory and regulatory authority to usurp local governments’ authority is the answer.

This false narrative is not new. It has been around since the passage of the Safe Drinking Water Act in 1974. Today, the narrative continues to be promoted from self-serving interests who stand to financially benefit from additional mandatory consolidation and privatization of small community water utilities. Some regulatory agencies are also supporting this narrative because of the administrative burden associated with the larger number of small community water systems.

Some of the more inaccurate statements made recently include the claims that (1) water utilities with fewer than 6,000 connections are unsustainable, (2) municipalities (i.e. mayors) should not be allowed to govern water utilities, and (3) small water utilities are unsustainable because they cannot afford to install advanced technology. These statements are being used to urge federal agencies and Congress to enact new legislation and policy to solve these perceived and unfounded problems at the expense of locally-preferred solutions.

Federal agency data contradicts these arguments and actually demonstrates widespread success in sustainability of small water utilities. The President’s FY 2019 Budget justification for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Water and Waste Disposal programs states that more than 93% of the current Rural Development portfolio of 15,536 loans (totaling $12.5 billion) met the Agency’s sustainability ratios. It is also important to note that USDA’s sustainability standard is the most rigorous standard of any federal agency.

Other federal data also undermines the argument that more Washington authority is needed to direct small community consolidation. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) data shows that voluntary consolidation is occurring through the local decision-making process when it is in the best interest of the local citizens. An analysis of EPA’s water system database (EPA SDWIS) shows there are 3,805 fewer community water systems (CWS) today (50,259 CWSs) than in 2000 (54,064 CWSs) and 1,851 fewer community water systems than 10 years ago (52,110 CWSs).

The decision for any local government to privatize, consolidate, or enter into any partnership should be determined at the discretion of local citizens. There is nothing inherently more efficient or more economical in the operation of a private water utility versus a public-governmental water utility. We encourage every community regardless of size or type of governmental structure to continually evaluate all options to enhance their sustainability. Through our state rural water associations, NRWA stands ready to help in all areas of water utility governance, management, compliance, operation and finance to support the continued sustainability of the nation’s drinking water and wastewater services to rural and small town America.

NRWA Statement on Water Utility Sustainability

DUNCAN, Okla. – The National Rural Water Association fully supports continued education, training and technical assistance to enhance the sustainability of the nation’s water and wastewater utilities.

In recent months, some stakeholders with vested interests have called for additional federal regulatory authority to direct the consolidation and regionalization of public water utilities as the means to achieve sustainability. NRWA supports consideration of consolidation or regionalization as one of several options to enhance long-term sustainability, however, the decision to choose among the options must be made at the local level by the people who drink the water and pay for its service.

Water utilities, large and small, need to consider all available options and evaluate which options best fit current local conditions and future sustainability. Decisions that communities should continuously evaluate include modifications to operations, governance policies, revenues, future compliance, growth, expenses as well as regionalization, consolidation and other types of collaborative efforts or partnerships.

NRWA members are the leaders in promoting regionalization, mergers and various forms of partnerships when it is in the best interest of the local community. A recent survey of state rural water association board members’ utilities indicated that 47% of the 242 respondents provide services to other utilities, and 7% receive services from other utilities through some form of partnership. NRWA and its members offer the best tools and resources to evaluate various substantiality options including technical assistance, board training and workforce development. NRWA recently announced the creation of the Water Industry Advancement and Sustainability Institute that will further assist with the advancement and sustainability of water and wastewater utilities in their mission to serve the public.

We have found that the key ingredient in any successful type of partnership, merger or consolidation is local support and local control of the decision-making process. If communities are coerced to consolidate; one can almost guarantee future controversy. NRWA advocates for local governments to maintain authority to choose when to merge, consolidate or enter into a regional partnership for long-term sustainability and successful collaboration.

Public Assistance- Rebuilding Communities After Disasters Part 3: 2 PM CST February 28

Public Assistance- Rebuilding Communities After Disasters Part 3: 2 PM CST February 28 Register Now

In the third and final session, we will discuss how to gain access to and use the new online system called “Grants Portal” which is used to apply for the PA grant after a Presidential Declaration.

About the Series: The Public Assistance program is a federal disaster grant assistance program for state, tribal, territorial, and local governments, and certain types of Private Non-Profit organizations that provides assistance for debris removal, life-saving emergency protective measures, and the repair, replacement or restoration of disaster damaged publicly-owned facilities, and facilities of certain PNP organizations. Additionally the PA program also encourages protection of these damaged facilities from future events by providing assistance for hazard mitigation measures during the recovery process. This training series will provide an overview of the PA Program and eligibility for this type of financial assistance.

Rural Water, Neighboring Community, Assist When Line Break Empties Banner Elk Water Tanks

BANNER ELK, N.C. – When a massive line break drained the tanks of Banner Elk, N.C., assistance from the North Carolina Rural Water Association and the neighboring community of Beech Mountain helped restore service.

“The town was having trouble keeping enough water in the tanks,” explained NCRWA Circuit Rider Keith Buff. A Circuit Rider is a roving water expert that provides assistance to utilities.

Banner Elk was experiencing line breaks from colder-than-normal temperatures.

“The lines were buried well enough for normal cold, but this year was extremely cold – below zero for several days,” Buff said. “They had service lines breaking and meters freezing.”

The Circuit Rider began locating leaks in the community, identifying several smaller leaks in the distribution system.

“I was doing leak detection when the line blew out,” Buff said. “I didn’t locate it through leak detection; it blew out of the ground.”

The massive leak was estimated at 100,000 gallons per day, and it emptied Banner Elk’s water tanks. Buff suspects that other leaks had allowed air into the line, which caused the line to blow out.

Buff continued repairing smaller leaks and helped the town with issuing their Boil Water Advisory. Beech Mountain, an adjacent community, sent five workers, a vacuum truck and two pumps to assist with repairing the leak.

“To me, that’s the best part of the story,” Buff said, “to see communities help each other and provide mutual aid. It probably cost $5,000 or $6,000 to send help.”

Even with the extra assistance, the leak’s location created more problems for the repair crews. The line was located next to a creek and recent heavy rains had soaked the surrounding soil.

“When they dug to the line, the creek broke into the ditch,” Buff said. “It was a mess.”

They worked for 12 hours to repair all the leaks and restore water pressure.

Public Assistance- Rebuilding Communities After Disasters Part 2: 2 PM CST February 21

Public Assistance- Rebuilding Communities After Disasters Part 2: 2 PM CST February 21   Register Now

In Part 2 of the series, we will discuss the process on how to apply for Public Assistance and what types of documentation is required.

About the Series: The Public Assistance program is a federal disaster grant assistance program for state, tribal, territorial, and local governments, and certain types of Private Non-Profit organizations that provides assistance for debris removal, life-saving emergency protective measures, and the repair, replacement or restoration of disaster damaged publicly-owned facilities, and facilities of certain PNP organizations. Additionally the PA program also encourages protection of these damaged facilities from future events by providing assistance for hazard mitigation measures during the recovery process. This training series will provide an overview of the PA Program and eligibility for this type of financial assistance.