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A 'perfect storm' for water districts

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By Marty Finley

By MARTY FINLEY

mfinley@thenewsenterprise.com

HARDIN COUNTY— A lack of electrical power in the county has left many residents displaced because water supplies have dwindled and some residents have no usable water supply.

The dual loss of power and water has left residents frustrated. Officials at both county water districts can relate, as the storm’s magnitude and ferocity destroyed backup plans and exceeded worst-case scenarios.

Back-up generators were delivered to the water districts early Thursday morning from Charleston, W.Va. and Cincinnati.

James Jeffries, general manager of Hardin County Water District No. 2, said it has been an ongoing debate among water district commissioners whether to purchase and install backup generators at the water plant. Jeffries said the district always asks if it should invest a large amount of money into generators that it will use once every four or five years, or spend that money toward helping new customers get water.

“What District No. 2 is doing right is spending money to reach new customers,” he said.

Jeffries said one hurdle is the expense of purchasing generators capable of powering the water plant. Rental costs for the three generators now running the plant is $42,000 per week, not including delivery and fuel costs, Jeffries said.

However, the district is weighing all of its options, with two requests submitted to the state for money to bring backup generation to the White Mills water plant and a major pump station that serves Elizabethtown.

“If money is not an object, and we could buy generators, that’s where we’d like to put them,” he said.

Jeffries said local legislators have been helpful in the past, securing money from the Kentucky Infrastructure Authority and USDA Rural Development dollars for various projects.

Water District No. 2 was restoring water services at a steady pace Friday despite a sometimes inconsistent power supply. Jeffries said the county as a whole lost around 20 million gallons of capacity per day once power went down.

But close to 90 percent of customers are back at full water pressure, Jeffries said, and connections are established with Hardin County Water District No. 1 and the city of Elizabethtown. The connections originally started at 400 gallons per minute, but Jeffries said by Friday afternoon it had increased the city to 500 gallons per minute and Water District No. 1 to 600 gallons per minute. Those connections are independent of the problems still remaining, though, and will not hinder customers further.

The improved conditions are allowing for water sampling, too, Jeffries said. The process should take around 18 hours and would expedite lifting the boil water advisory.

“Things are progressing,” he said.

Jeffries estimated at least 12,000 customers lost water service, with all water tanks except Glendale’s running dry.

By Friday afternoon about 2,000 customers were still without water in southern Hardin County and northern Hart County, he said.

Jim Bruce, general manager at Hardin County Water District No. 1, said the widespread power outage was a “perfect storm, worst-case scenario” that toppled backup plans.

Backup generators were never a real concern because the water plants have storage tanks they can access until power is up. If the tanks are not sufficient, Water District No. 1 can tap into Fort Knox’s pump station and get twice the amount of water it could get from the plant, he said.

However, loss of power at Fort Knox’s plant left Water District No. 1 struggling to rebound and return service to customers. Bruce said LG&E had numerous crews working at Fort Knox to return power, and he was confident power would be restored soon.  District No. 2 also loaned Water District No. 1 two generators once its power was restored. Bruce did not have an estimate of rental costs for Water District No. 1, but said he believes the costs will be submitted for reimbursement since President Obama declared Kentucky a disaster area.

Progress also was coming in other areas. Bruce said interconnectors were working, restoring water service to Vine Grove, and would stay in place as long as supplies allow.

Bruce said Water District No. 1 also is considering including a backup generator as part of the design when the water plant is renovated. 

Both water districts will provide gallons of drinking water for pickup at Stithton Baptist Church in Radcliff and Pritchard Community Center in Elizabethtown as long as supplies are available.

Marty Finley can be reached at (270) 505-1762.