City water crisis continues to calm; all boil alerts cancelled

By Tom Corrigan - [email protected]

After about a week of ongoing problems which temporarily eliminated or severely reduced water service to thousands of Portsmouth residents, city and county officials say the situation is returning to normal.

On Friday morning, various city officials met with the Scioto County Emergency Management Agency.

“Basically, we had an all hands meeting,” said Kim Carver, director of the Scioto EMA.

The meeting included representatives from the state EMA as well as the Ohio Emergency Operations Center. One result was the lifting of the last boil advisory still in place.

That advisory was aimed at residents around Eighth and Harmon streets, the location of the last reported waterline break. Both Christopher Smith, city health commissioner, and Carver stated Friday there were no further water line breaks in Portsmouth since Thursday.

A joint press release from the city health department and the county EMA stated water in the area of Harmon showed no signs of bacteria growth and chlorine levels were good. The release also stated water service had been restored to all areas of the city, including West Portsmouth and Rosemount. On Thursday, city and county officials reported two pumps were now in place at Sunrise and helping provide steady water pressure in the hilltop area, one of the spots most affected by recent water main breaks.

The lift station pumps are being monitored 24 hours a day, officials said in their press release. The two pumps are being used to fill the 900,000-gallon reserve tank at the Sunrise reservoir which has been providing service to all customers and slowly filling up to storage capacity. Carver said water levels in the reserve tank had reached about 28 feet by noon Friday, an overnight increase of about 10 feet. Officials indicated the tank’s water level needs to reach 75 feet before it can be considered fully functional.

One major issue continues to be supplying water to the Southern Ohio Medical Center, which in addition to normal drinking and sanitation needs, requires water for its cooling systems.

“Presently the Ohio Fire Response Plan has been activated through Ohio Homeland Security and the Ohio Emergency Operations Center. (21) fire departments from across Ohio are supporting the Portsmouth Fire Department in their mission to haul into dump tanks to pump into hospital water systems to keep the hospital open with full operational status. Additionally, local departments which supported the operation for six days continue to help as well,” the city/county press release reads in part.

“We temporarily closed several offices and services on Monday,” SOMC spokesperson Eric Kephas said Thursday via a text message to the Daily Times. “We have since been able to restore those services thanks to the ongoing support of our local fire departments.”

Carver said the Ohio Emergency Operations Center has been involved in the water crisis in several ways. For one thing, she said, the EOC reached out to major local retailers such as Kroger and Walmart to ensure there is bottled water available on their shelves. They also helped bring him outside fire departments to aid SOMC. Regarding the hospital, Carver said officials will be monitoring water levels to see when SOMC can again depend on city water sources for its needs.

In their press release, officials admitted “discoloration, sediment and rust in the water are being reported throughout the hilltop area and from other parts of the city.” The press release stresses boil alerts have been lifted and water is safe to drink. While it is safe to do laundry, residents are warned about possible discoloration of clothing, especially whites. There are no issues with showering, hand washing or doing dishes, depending on the amount of sediment in the water. A clean cloth can also be used to filter water for use if needed.

Smith said discoloration and contamination is a result of re-pressurizing lines around the city, a process which stirred up sediment in those lines.

“You’re kind of drinking it anyway,” Smith added regarding that sediment, stating it usually just is not as noticeable. Smith continued if residents are not comfortable drinking their tap water, they should simply just not do so.

“A lot of people don’t want to drink it, I understand that,” he concluded.

For those not comfortable with their tap water, free water remains available at the water filtration plant in New Boston. Bring your own jugs to fill up. If you have special needs or are unable to leave your home to purchase water or fill up at the filtration plant, call the Portsmouth City Health Department info line for bottled water.

Carver stated one message she wanted to emphasize is that residents need to conserve water as much as possible until the city’s water reserves return to normal. Some ways residents can do that include drinking bottled water, refraining from filling pools, watering lawns, or washing dishes and laundering until the situation has been remedied.

Until all issues can be fully resolved the health department continues to man 24/7 an information and assistance telephone line. Call 740-354-8931. Carver added city and county officials will be monitoring the situation over the weekend and will release any emergency updates as needed.

By Tom Corrigan

[email protected]