Article courtesy of Marcus Constantino | January 25, 2015 | Charleston Daily Mail | Shared as educational material
Thousands of Greenbrier County residents and businesses are without water after a diesel spill contaminated the Greenbrier River.
The Lewisburg water treatment plant was shut down shortly after a tanker truck rolled over and spilled its load of diesel fuel into a tributary of the Greenbrier River late Friday night. Mark Carver, Lewisburg’s public works director, said all of the water tanks at the treatment plant had been depleted as of 2 p.m. Sunday.
The Lewisburg water treatment plant serves 4,500 customers — around 12,000 people — in Lewisburg, Ronceverte, Frankfort and Renick.
“We have some water in low spots, but all our tanks are dry,” Carver said. “We’re running on empty.”
Al Whitaker, director of homeland security and emergency management for Greenbrier County, said the tanker truck was hauling 7,000 gallons of diesel fuel north on W.Va. 92, approximately 11 miles from White Sulphur Springs, when it was involved in a crash at about 11:30 p.m. Friday. Whitaker estimates the truck spilled “more than 3,500 gallons” of diesel fuel into a tributary stream that feeds Anthony Creek, which runs into the Greenbrier River.
Whitaker said environmental contractors began placing booms in Anthony Creek and the Greenbrier River Saturday. He said U.S. Environmental Protection Agency officials arrived at about midnight Saturday night and began taking water samples.
The Lewisburg water treatment plant, which Whitaker says is about 20 miles from the site of the spill, shut down when Carver learned of the spill at 2:30 a.m. Saturday morning. Though none of the contaminated water seeped into the water treatment plant, Carver said the plant can’t be brought back online until the EPA’s water quality tests indicate there is no diesel fuel at the water intake.
Those test results won’t be back until sometime Monday.
Amanda McMichael, environmental health program supervisor for the Greenbrier County Heatlh Department, said around 100 restaurants and food service establishments in the affected area have been ordered to shut down until the water outage ends. She said restaurants that bring in potable water will be allowed to request conditional use permits starting Monday.
Carver said the earliest the water treatment plant could be restarted is late Monday afternoon.
“Once we get a test back that passes, that shows the water is good enough for us to fire the plant back up, we will,” Carver said. “Right now, we’re looking at sometime tomorrow being able to do that. The first tests were taken today and it takes 24 hours to analyze the data for the test to be performed. So the earliest we would be back up and running would be sometime tomorrow afternoon late, if we pass.”
Even after water is restored, though, McMichael said things will not return to normal immediately. She said all customers that get water from the Lewisburg plant will be under a boil water advisory since all water tanks in the system ran dry, and other problems, such as line breaks, could come up as water is restored and air runs through the water lines.
“I think this is going to be an ongoing situation,” McMichael said. “At the point, where we know the water is safe past the plant, but it’s going to take a considerable amount of time to get everything back to normal.
“As far as having a functional system, that’s not gonna happen the moment they turn those pumps on,” McMichael said. “This is just a dynamic situation that we’ll have to take day by day.”
Carver said customers in the affected areas should stop using their tap water and turn off their hot water tanks immediately to prevent damage.
“If it’s electric, you need to turn the breaker off,” Carver said. “If it’s gas, you need to turn it to the pilot mode, that way that don’t tear something up in the hot water heater or cause a fire.”
Whitaker said water treatment plants further downstream along the Greenbrier River, including Alderson, have not been directly affected by the spill. But Alderson preemptively shut down its water treatment plant to prevent any possibility of contamination.
In a statement, Alderson mayor Travis Copenhaver said booms are being placed upstream from the Alderson treatment plant’s intake, and the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection has taken water samples from near the treatment plant’s water intake to see if there were any contaminants in the water.
“We will not pump, treat, and put new water into our system until we are sure it is safe to do so,” Copenhaver said. “The water in our system now, which was pumped and treated on Saturday, is safe. We are acting out of an abundance of caution regarding this incident. The water levels in our tanks are still sufficient for a couple of days of normal usage.”
Bulk water is available for those affected by the water outage at the West Virginia State Fairgrounds in Fairlea. Paula Brown, deputy emergency director for Greenbrier County, said West Virginia American Water and the state Division of Highways have provided two 7,500 gallon tankers and one 8,800 gallon tanker of potable water. Residents should bring their own containers to fill up with water.
Carver could not provide an estimated time of water restoration because the lab results for water samples will not be available until Monday.
A concierge at The Greenbrier said the resort gets its water from White Sulphur Springs and is not affected by the water outage.
Several schools were scheduled to be closed Monday because of the incident, according to the state Department of Education website. Those schools included Eastern Greenbrier Middle, Frankford Elementary, Greenbrier East High, Lewisburg Elementary and Ronceverte Elementary.