September 11, 2008

Rocky Mount Drains Tank Amid Water Conservation

By Janelle Rucker [email protected] 981-3159

Rocky Mount officials made the call last week to do away with about 350,000 gallons of treated water while the town was still under a mandatory conservation order.

On Thursday, the day before the mandatory water restrictions were lifted, gallons gushed out of the water tank on Bald Knob Hill as contractors prepared the tank for routine servicing, Assistant Town Manager Matt Hankins said.

That same day, town officials started the process to lift the call for mandatory water restrictions and announced the end of conservation efforts Friday, Hankins said.

The town went into mandatory conservation mode Aug. 25 after water flow in the Blackwater River, the town's water source, reached a historic low of 1.5 cubic feet per second.

Before the mandatory call, town officials asked residents to voluntarily conserve on July 28. But the lack of rain and conservation efforts prompted the request to turn into an order. The town's administration, in several public statements, said the town's water customers weren't conserving enough under the voluntary request.

While residents were warned not to water their yards or gardens, fill their pools or wash their cars at home, the town proceeded to drain the tank Thursday so it could be prepared for sandblasting and a paint job Friday. Hankins defended the town administration's decision Tuesday.

"With the inspection of the tank overdue and a possible health department violation at issue, the town decided to proceed," he said. "The town had delayed the servicing many times due to the decision that we could not afford to have the tank off line during the drought, nor could we afford to drain the tank for service due to the scarcity of water."

And the town didn't randomly choose a day to begin work, Hankins said. Friday was the day the contractor had an opening, he said.

On top of the water released to allow contractors to do the work, two failed valves and a "staff error" allowed more water to escape than was necessary.

According to Hankins, two valves didn't close to keep water from entering the tank. To fix the problem, water department employees tried to close valves in the distribution system, but only closed one of the two valves, causing water to continue to escape.

The open valve was discovered and fixed Friday, and the water lost was replaced by the end of the day.

Repairing and painting the tank inside and out is supposed to be performed every three to four years or as needed, based on the age of the tank, Hankins said.

The Bald Knob tank hasn't been fully serviced since 1999 but has been inspected annually.

Councilman Jerry Greer said Tuesday he wasn't aware that the tank would be worked on last week but understood the work had probably already been scheduled and had to be done regardless of the conservation status.

The conservation "was a way of calming usage of water down in a drought situation," Greer said. "We were never in real danger of running out of water."

Several other council members did not return phone messages Tuesday.

Since remnants of Tropical Storm Fay hit the area Aug. 26, water flow in the Blackwater has fluctuated.

It's water flow was recorded at 18 cubic feet per second last week.


In August, water flow in the Blackwater River reached a historic low.

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