Water-Line Flushing Starts Wednesday
Elkins, W. Va., August 24, 2021: The City of Elkins Water Distribution Department will begin flushing the city’s water lines on Wednesday night, the chief operator of the city’s water system announced today. The flushing will be performed 5 p.m.-5 a.m. Monday-Friday as other work allows. This week’s flushing will focus on Fourth Ward and U.S. Route 33 eastward from its intersection with Randolph Avenue.
The purpose of the flushing, which the health department recommends be performed every six months, is to reduce the volume of rust, mineral deposits, and other sediments in underground water pipes that can cause cloudy or discolored water at the tap.
In 2017, the city built a new, state-of-the-art plant to purify water from the Tygart Valley River. This water must travel to Elkins homes and businesses through a network of much older pipes, however, some of which have been in the ground for the better part of a century.
“Our water plant puts out high-quality, extremely pure drinking water, but some of the pipes that water has to go out through are really old and not in the greatest condition,” says Wes Lambert, the water system’s chief operator. “That fancy new plant doesn’t mean a whole lot to someone who gets brown water when they turn on the faucet.”
To flush the lines, Water Distribution Department workers will systematically open fire hydrants and let the water flow at full force for a prescribed amount of time. The flushing will be combined with flow testing to ensure each hydrant is operating in accordance with fire department requirements.
“The flushing is not a perfect process because of the way the system has grown over the years,” says Lambert. “There are some parts of the city where, because of hydrant location and the hydrodynamics of the pipe network in that area, we aren’t able to flush as much as we would like. But the hope is that by flushing everywhere we can on a regular basis, it will still reduce the overall volume of sediment in the pipes citywide.”
Another reason flushing is not always a cure-all for discolored water is because the rust or other sediments affecting certain customers may originate in their own service lines, the pipes that connect the city-maintained water mains to each customer’s house or building.
“If the rust is coming from a customer’s service line, the flushing we’re doing is not going to help a whole lot,” says Lambert, who points out that the city is responsible for water lines only until they reach each customer’s water meter. “In that case, the customer is going to need to consult with a plumber to see what they might be able to do.”
Lambert explains that the goal is to complete this round of flushing within about a month but concedes it may take longer.
“If our guys could do this every night, we’d be able to wrap up in about a month. But we know there are going to be water-line breaks and other projects that come along, so it will probably run longer than that.”
Although the overall goal of the flushing is to reduce sediment in water lines, customers in or near a section of the city that is being flushed may temporarily experience heightened discoloration in their water. This does not indicate that the water is unsafe to drink, cook with, or bathe in, but it would be advisable to avoid doing laundry until any remaining sediment has settled once again.
Customers experiencing cloudy or discolored water can try leaving taps open in a bathtub or sink for 20 minutes. It is important not to run hot water, however, as that would fill the building’s water heater with water that contains sediments.
Each week, the city will use its social media channels, email alert list, and website to announce which sections of the city will be flushed. The information will also be supplied to the media.
City officials are currently investigating whether funds awarded to Elkins under the American Rescue Project Act (ARPA) may be used to replace older water mains and make other improvements to the water distribution system.
“We are hoping to take some concrete steps soon toward a more permanent solution for customers experiencing discolored water,” says Lambert. “Until then, regular line flushing is the best tool we have for at least reducing the problems people are having. Unfortunately, some people are going to see discolored water as we proceed. We just hope everyone will be patient and bear with us as we get this program rolling again.”
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