Weeks of water restrictions end for three communities

By: Michael Campbell | Twitter: @itsthesoup
Posted: July 10, 2019 | 12:30 p.m.

New reservoir roof, water filtration upgrades among county’s next steps 

PRINCE GEORGE – After over a dozen weeks of water restrictions that limited how residents in three Prince George subdivisions could utilize that resource, county officials have lifted those restrictions as they near the end of repairs to a key water system asset that serves those communities. 

According to Prince George County Utilities Director Frank Haltom, his department anticipated they would be able to lift water restrictions in the Beechwood Manor, Jordan on the James, and Eagle Preserve subdivisions just before the July 4 holiday after efforts to repair the Beechwood reservoir have resulted in a temporary roof being installed as the facility’s permanent roof continues to be fabricated. 

These three communities have been under water restrictions since midway through spring as the county was undertaking maintenance at the reservoir. Days before that work was slated to finish, a severe thunderstorm moved through the northern end of the county and downed a tree onto the roof of the reservoir, causing significant damage to the wood-frame roof covering the facility’s

Once the damage was discovered, the decision was made to continue those restrictions in Beechwood Manor, Jordan on the James, and Eagle Preserve, which prohibited “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,” with $100 fines possible for those found violating the restrictions.

Those restrictions were implemented to ensure sufficient water capacity was available for basic household tasks, like washing clothes, bathing, and cooking, and fire suppression.

With the Beechwood reservoir offline, water officials confirmed over 400 homes were being served by only one well, a well that was being utilized at such a rate that concerns about its failure rose within days of the tree damage to the building’s roof. 

While working with supervisors to get a new metal roof approved for the building, an upgrade from the aging and deteriorating wood-and-shingle roof, Haltom and his staff worked closely with local health officials on plans to try and bring the reservoir back online as quickly and safely as possible, citing the fear of a pump failure at the lone well serving those nearly 500 homes, which would’ve left residents without water for several days until a new pump is found and installed.

“If that one does fail, then we would have a catastrophe on our hands so we want to make sure we protect that well as best we can,” he said in a briefing to residents and supervisors in early June.

Efforts to protect the Jordan on the James well from failure began during that time as temporary storage was brought in and connected to the water system to help provide relief to the well, but not an end to the water restrictions, which would come from the next step of the county’s plan through the installation of a temporary roof at the reservoir. 

Thanks to a reprieve from the seemingly endless rain showers in the area of late, contractors were able to re-paint the reservoir and allow adequate time to cure. Late last week, Haltom confirmed the temporary roof had been installed at the reservoir, allowing for crews to get to work on sanitizing the facility and preparing to fill the 95,000 gallon structure, a process that took roughly three days. 

Even though there may be water in the reservoir, the county had to ensure that water was safe to drink before allowing it to enter the system, with two straight days of clean samples being needed before the reservoir can return to service. 

Based on those results, officials projected those restrictions, which have been in place consistently since April, would end late last week.

Even though those restrictions are lifted, the work of county utility officials and the contractors working with them continues. Prior to the installation of the temporary roof and after that work, several trees were removed from the surrounding area in an effort to prevent this kind of situation from happening again. That work did pause to allow for the temporary roof to be installed in late June but, much of the tree removal activities wrapped last week.

While the temporary roof is offering relief to restrictions and allowing for life to return to normal, Haltom said in June, should something happen to that temporary roof, the temporary water storage already in place at the Beechwood reservoir would remain connected and ready for utilization and restrictions likely would be reenacted. 

In addition, Haltom confirmed they have found a pump “should [the county] need to replace the well pump at Jordan on the James in the event it fails,” noting, even though “it is not the exact specification,” it would operate as needed.

In regards to the permanent roof, it is being fabricated by contractors in Virginia Beach and a specific timetable for its completion hasn’t been announced but, in previous conversations with the media and communications with the board of supervisors, Haltom said in June that the roof could take anywhere from three to five weeks to build in Hampton Roads and then seven to ten more days to construct at the reservoir itself, with a conservative date of July 27 being eyed for the completion of the new roof structure. 

After that roof is installed, repairs to the fence that was also damaged by the fallen tree would occur. 

Another issue some residents, particularly those living in Jordan on the James have been dealing with over the last several years, including during the recent water restrictions, is discolored water coming from their taps, with some reporting a brown tint in the water. 

In June, Haltom explained they felt they were making some headway in determining the cause of the brown water, namely a change in the placement of chlorination lines from the well source to the distribution lines prior to his arrival as utilities director in 2018.

“In doing so, what that does is bypass the filters with the chlorine,” he detailed. “The use of the chlorine was to break apart the iron that was in the water. And then it would go through the filter, therefore, filtering out the iron. So what was happening was the iron was falling apart in the system, instead of oxidizing. Instead of it oxidizing prior to it getting to the filters and being captured by those filters, it was oxidizing within the system.”

While they have moved the lines back in an effort to address the issue, Haltom said that brown sediment likely remains in some of the lines and, when demand increases, like what has occurred during the water restrictions, some of that sediment can get pulled into the system, adding they have seen areas that have consistent high water demand not having a discoloration issue while areas with lower demand may still have some accumulated sediment in the lines. 

In an update last week, Haltom said an engineering consultant is in the midst of developing a plan to “upgrade and/or replace equipment for the Jordan on the James water system,” which will include “replacement of the filtering system or providing an alternative method to remove the iron and manganese.”

Following through on his comments in June, with the installation of the temporary roof, flushing activities were earmarked for both the Jordan on the James and Beechwood water systems which, according to Haltom, will “adequately flush the system of sediment in the lines” in an effort to provide some improvement to the water quality. 

Beyond the flushing, after the permanent roof is installed, “the new filter or an alternative treatment solution will be installed.” A timeline for that process is still under development but Haltom estimates that will occur in September to allow time for design, required approvals, and manufacturing of the filter.

While that work continues, Haltom explained in June, despite the color, the water is safe for consumption.

Yes, the water is brown, but it is safe to drink.”

He remarked he is unsure if it stains but, “it does leave a ring around your bathtub if you leave it there for a long time if you don’t drain it immediately. I don’t know if it will stain clothes as I have not witnessed that yet.”

“Yes, there is some brown water out there still but, it is safe to drink,” Haltom closed. “All the contaminants have been removed.”

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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