Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

Editorials

January 14, 2014

Water woes

Last few days have remined us of how vulnerable we are

ASHLAND — “Water, water everywhere but not a drop to drink.”

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That familiar phrase has hit too close to homes in recent days as tens of thousands of residents of West Virginia and northeastern Kentucky learned first hand of what life is like when a resource most of us take from granted — safe drinking water — suddenly is unavailable. Seldom have people in this region felt so vulnerable.

The most serious of the problems were in neighboring West Virginia where a chemical spill in the Elk River made the water unsafe to drink or even bathe or wash clothes for more than 300,000 residents.

Without water, communities in West Virginia essentially shut down. Restaurants were closed because water is essential for preparing most food items, and even if it could be prepared, there was no water to wash dishwater or flush toilets. There was such a mad rush for bottled water in this area that one large supermarket was answering the telephone by saying, “Hello, no we don’t have any bottled water, sorry.”

 But communities on this side of the Big Sandy River also found water in short supply, but instead of a chemical spill, it was because of the warming temperatures after last week’s frigid weather. First, frozen water lines slowed the flow of water and lowered the water pressure to a trickle in hundreds of area homes

Then, as the temperatures warmed, the thawing ice causes scores of leaks water lines. There were so many water line leaks in private homes that at least one plumber responded to a call in his private vehicles, because his employer’s seven vehicles were all on calls.

But the leaks were not just limited to private residences. Far from it. In the city of Greenup, which supplies much of Greenup County with water, there were so many leaks in water lines that the city was forced to shut off service to about 2,000 customers because of a lack of water.

Catlettsburg residents were struggling with low or non-existent water pressure because of leaks. Compounding the problem was the city was have trouble locating at least some of the leaks and issued a plea to area residents who spotted leaks to please call the water department.

Hopefully, by today the most serious problems are behind us. But engineers and employees of water companies need to meet to discuss ways to handle similar problems in the future. Fortunately, the extremely cold weather that this region experienced Jan. 6 and Jan. 7 is rare, but it served a reminder to homeowners to better protect their water lines from the cold.

As for the chemical spill in West Virginia, well, that should have never happened. Those responsible for it must be held accountable for the extreme hardships the spill caused. The spill cost businesses and individuals throughout the region millions of dollars.

While all the water problems caused water companies from Greenup, Flatwoods and Catlettsburg and throughout West Virginia to receive more than their share of angry calls,  from our vantage point, scores of water company employees and plumbers worked many, many hours without rest trying to repair the leaks and restore water to customers. While the extent of the problems may have been a bit more than they could handle as quickly as we wished, we commend them for their efforts. Without their skills and dedication, the problems would have been much, much worse.

Sure, most will receive hefty paychecks for their hours of overtime, but they deserve it.

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