The two city officials perhaps most responsible for operations of the Portsmouth water system both agree: there is a very good chance the water problems occurring over the last roughly two weeks may not end anytime soon.
“I really anticipated a lot more breaks and a lot more problems,” said Acting Mayor Kevin E. Johnson.
As he has in the past, Johnson said further problems are quite likely as contractors continue to work on the 30-inch water line that runs along Offnere Street to Kinneys Lane to Sunrise and ultimately, the city reservoir.
Acting City Manager Sam Sutherland is also director of public utilities. He agreed more problems like what’s happened since roughly June 22 are “possible.”
According to Johnson, the city is not replacing the 30-inch diameter line running to the reservoir. Instead, using new technology, contractors are pumping a new liner inside the pipe. Cost of the work has been estimated at $4.5 million. Johnson said putting in a new liner instead of a new pipe is cheaper and far more efficient. For example, the city does not need to tear up streets anywhere near as much as they would have otherwise
However, no matter how they work on the pipe, contractors still need to shut down that pipe as they do their jobs. With that line out of service, Sutherland said the water normally flowing through it needs to go somewhere. The result is fluctuations in pressure in other lines, which also can become overloaded with pressures they really are not meant to handle. The result has been the numerous water breaks that have sprung up around Portsmouth, reducing pressure to business and residential customers alike and sometimes stirring up sediment in the pipes which leads to discolored water reaching local taps.
“We’re dealing underground with things we’ve never seen before,” Johnson said.
Both he and Sutherland noted the infrastructure being dealt with is in some cases 100 or more years old. Sutherland said it’s difficult to say how much longer the liner project may take. Contractors have 180 days from the June 4 project start date to complete the work. Sutherland added contractors have been able to continue putting in the new liner even as the city works to contain the water breaks. He does not believe contractors will need the full 180 days but added there is no way to know for sure.
As the work continues, both Johnson and Sutherland said there will be traffic disruptions especially around Kinneys Lane and Offnere Street. Responding to concerns voiced by businesses in the area, the city is allowing local traffic to reach Offnere and those businesses. Through traffic is being rerouted. Johnson specifically asked residents and others be patient and aware of traffic patterns in the construction area.
While the effect of the many water breaks on residents has been well-documented in news reports, the effects on local businesses is less clear. One Daily Times staffer reported being handed a cup of dirty water at a fast food restaurant. Neither Johnson nor Sutherland denied that might well have happened. However, both also said they had not received any complaints regarding water service disruptions from local businesses. Johnson was careful to note that does not mean those disruptions did not occur.
Both Johnson and Sutherland said further water projects are more than possible in the future. Johnson especially again noted the age of the city’s underground infrastructure. Sutherland estimated there is 200 miles of that infrastructure beneath Portsmouth. Johnson added he expects that eventually the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency will mandate completion of specific water projects.
Johnson and Sutherland were asked how much money the many water line breaks have cost the city in terms of materials and especially pay for city workers. Both said it was too early to tell, though Johnson said he might have a partial update ready for Monday’s City Council meeting.
The latest update on the water situation was released by the city early Thursday afternoon. Officials said the next step in recovering the system is to start replenishing the 22-million-gallon Sunrise Reservoir. The city planned to begin that process around 10 p.m. Thursday. To start the refill, the city must open the valve that fills the reservoir. This may lead to some discoloration of water in certain areas. It is the intention of City Water to minimize this by moving though the steps slowly.
Residents with concerns about their water quality may still draw jugs for consumption at the filtration plant in New Boston. There were no boil orders in effect at the time of the city’s release and water was said to be safe for bathing.
The city did say water conservation continues to be important to permit the filling process to be expedited. The 900,000-gallon reserve storage tank continues to stay steady at around 80 feet.
The city has been providing daily water updates throughout much of the crisis but noted that will end as of today. A water quality information line at Portsmouth City Health will be manned during regular business hours Monday through Friday from 8:00 to 4:30 p.m. Those with questions about the quality of water can call (740) 354-8931.