Parts of county water system at risk as some ignore ongoing restrictions

By: Michael Campbell | Twitter: @itsthesoup
Posted: May 29, 2019 | 11:40 a.m.

Only one well now serving 400+ homes in Beechwood Manor, Jordan on the James, Eagle Preserve area

PRINCE GEORGE – The county’s head of public utilities was direct in his update to supervisors last week regarding ongoing water restrictions affecting three water systems following damage to a key reservoir building – residents should heed ongoing restrictions or risk the possibility of a complete loss of water in that area.

Frank Haltom, Prince George County’s director of engineering and utilities, provided that information and more details on ongoing repairs to a county water storage building that services the Beechwood Manor, Jordan on the James, and Eagle Preserve water systems after a tree crashed through the roof of the building during a May 5 severe thunderstorm.

Those three communities had been under water use restrictions since mid-April, well before the act of nature in May, as the county had been performing maintenance at the reservoir during that time. Before the tree collapsed into the mid-section of the wood-frame roof, the county had anticipated their work would be completed by mid-May, allowing those restrictions to end, which prohibits the “sprinkling, watering or irrigation of new and established lawns,” washing cars, including commercial vehicles, and “the outdoor surfaces of all buildings and structures, sidewalks, and driveways,” and “filling or cleaning … swimming, wading pools, and decorative fountains.”

The restrictions were implemented to ensure all customers have adequate pressures for fire suppression and domestic uses, like washing clothes, showering, and cooking.

Those found violating the ordinance in those three communities face a $100 fine and “in a case of a continuing violation, each day’s continuance thereof shall be deemed a separate and distinct offense with fines escalating.” In his update last week, it seems the risk of fines hasn’t deterred some from continuing to use water outside of the realm of what is allowed in the ongoing restriction and that could lead to serious consequences as repairs to the system are expected to take between six to eight weeks,

“We only have one well serving approximately 1,000 people or roughly 430 connections,” Haltom said. “We still have folks who are ignoring water restrictions, pushing that well pump to its capacity and I just want people to be aware that, if that well goes, there will be no water to those 1,000 people, those 430 homes.”

According to Haltom, most of that usage is occurring between 5 a.m. and 6 a.m., in the early morning hours when normally don’t have anyone out patrolling.

“Our residents have been without their normal water usage for nearly two months now so you can imagine our customers are a bit frustrated, and rightfully so, but these water restrictions are very important,” he said. “I know it can be frustrating but, they are putting these neighborhoods at extreme risk to lose another well and they would all be without water until we could the roof restored or the pump replaced, which isn’t a cheap or quick solution, as well.”

While the county works to get the system back to its normal capacity, Haltom said last week he will be meeting members of the Virginia Department of Health to present their plan for review so, when it does go to the state for a formal review, it can likely move with an expedited pace.

The utility director further explained work on the roof of the water storage building has already begun. In mid-May, supervisors approved moving forward with completely replacing the nearly 50-year-old wooden roof after the county’s insurance company sought to only repair one-third of the roof structure. Citing the inability to use treated wood on a drinking water reservoir and past damage to the wood-and-shingle roof, it was decided that a metal roof would be the ideal option for the storage building.

Last week, he stressed, while it may seem like no work is being done at the water storage building, the metal roof will be constructed by their contractor at their facility and then transported to the reservoir for installation. That process is expected to take roughly four to five weeks.

Once that roof is installed, the county will still need to perform normal water system procedures since it is a drinking water reservoir and go through an inspection by the Virginia Department of Health. In total, Haltom said he expects all the work to be completed in six to eight weeks.

“We are trying to push this as quick as possible,” he stressed to supervisors during their work session.

In the meantime, Haltom said he has met with Rain for Rent, a company who specializes in “temporary liquid handling solutions,” such as pumps, tanks, and other systems to see if they can provide some temporary water storage to “add onto the water [the county] already has at Jordan on the James.”

“That would provide another 40,000 gallons of water,” he explained. “Beechwood [Manor] is about 90,000 gallons – how much water volume we are losing right now. The Jordan on the James system is about 61 gallons. We went from about 150,000 gallons down to 61,000 gallons. We are trying to add another 40,000 gallons back.”

Haltom added, “Whether or not we are going to be able to reduce restrictions is going to be dependent on what the health department says. If our well is able to keep up with that capacity, then we will be able to reduce some restrictions. Otherwise, if it isn’t, we will keep those restrictions in place and that storage is going to be there to aid in fire suppression.”

According to Board Chairman Donald Hunter, three tankers of water have been designated to respond should any house fires break out in the area.

After his remarks, Haltom provided additional background on the situation, walking through the differences between the Jordan on the James and Beechwood Manor water systems.

“Jordan on the James has a lower capacity and the well pump is a little bigger than the one at Beechwood [Manor], but it is already operating at max capacity trying to serve the neighborhoods because it is now serving an additional 300 homes that it wasn’t designed for,” he said. “So, providing all that water through one well pump is making that well operate almost 20 hours a day. The only time it gets to relax is in the evening hours when everyone is asleep.”

Haltom added, “While it is running all day, it is building up heat and those bearings could fail at any time. If people don’t try to curtail their use of water, specifically irrigation, because we know it is occurring, that well could burn up and people would be out of water for at least a few days until we can get that replaced.”

“If you use the water, you are going to pay for it one way or the other and you’re paying for it twice – through the meter and with a fine,” he detailed.

Even with that, Haltom said he understands the frustration that those living in those communities are feeling, having been under restrictions since mid-April and, with a spell of hot weather over the county and the desire to engage in outdoor activities and lawn care growing.

“Some people are understanding and some have newer homes that have sod put down and they are losing their investment so we are very understanding of that and they are trying to protect their investment,” he remarked. “Some want to open and fill up their pools with Memorial Day just passing, so they want to start using those. Others are flat out frustrated as they may not have been aware of all of the information, so when they called, they weren’t aware of the tree that fell through the building either because they didn’t get the notice or didn’t see reports in the media. So they lash out, but as soon as you give them the information, they are understanding regardless. They just want to get back to normal.”

That normalcy may come, based on county estimates, sometime early next month.

According to Haltom, the county will alert those affected once repairs are complete and restrictions are lifted. Those with questions are asked to contact the county’s utilities department director Frank Haltom at 804-722-8688 or fhaltom@princegeorgeva.gov.

Copyright 2019 by Womack Publishing
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