Whitesburg KY
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Letcher avoids water woes others have suffered

Municipal water systems in counties and cities all around Letcher County, especially the cities of Whitesburg and Hazard, have been hit hard by water problems that were mostly caused by the recent bout of freezing weather. However, the Letcher County Water and Sewer District is only averaging a 12 percent loss of treated water, and District Manager Mark Lewis has reported that it has only had to spend about $5,000 on equipment damage during the freeze.

Lewis delivered his report at last week’s January meeting of the district’s Board of Directors, and several board members praised district workers for their efforts.

“I thank our workers that we’re not in the same boat some surrounding counties are,” said Board Chairman Bernard Watts. Board member Diane Adams also praised the staff for their hard work and added that Lewis has played a large role in the district’s success. At the same time, Perry County and Martin County have seen county residents go for weeks without water and ongoing woes with water lines in Whitesburg have kept city water workers constantly busy.

One of the most pressing issues facing many municipal water systems in eastern Kentucky is that their lines are old, some having been in use for over 40 years. The City of Jenkins was experiencing unaccounted losses of treated water of over 80 percent regularly in the 1990s and the early part of the new century, but in 2004, Mayor Robert Schubert and the Jenkins City Council instituted a program to replace every water line in the city. With grant funding, loans, and funds from Abandoned Mine Lands, Jenkins has all new water lines now except for a couple of neighborhoods, which are scheduled to have their lines replaced soon. Losses have dropped to under 20 percent, which is the state average.

The City of Fleming-Neon is also in the early stages of renovating its entire water system, upgrading the water treatment plant, and replacing city lines. The City of Whitesburg is in the early stages of a project to upgrade its water treatment plant and replace lines throughout the city as well.

The Letcher County Water and Sewer District made its first major efforts to start extending new water lines countywide in 2004, after building the Blackey Water Treatment Plant and running lines in the Blackey/ Jeremiah area. Since 2004, LCWSD has extended water lines through well over half the county, and much of the cost has been covered by grants. The grants have come from Abandoned Mine Lands, which funds projects to provide water to areas impacted by coal mining before the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977. Areas impacted before 1977, or pre-law areas, are eligible for funding to replace lost or damaged water sources.

In other business, Alan Bowman of Bell Engineering, which works with the district on water projects, reported that a preconstruction meeting was held on January 8 with project contractors Ronnie Mullins and Sons of Elkhorn City for Phase II of the Red Star, Hallie, and Turkey Creek Water Improvements Project. The construction contract began on January 22 and runs for 120 days. Delivery of supplies and material to the site will begin in February, and the contractors said they expect to begin construction within the next two weeks. AML has indicated that the Deane Interconnect, to connect lines from the Knott County Water District with Letcher County lines, will probably be included with Phase II of the Red Star Project.

Plans and specifications for the water plant and water lines for the Cumberland River Project are complete and the hydraulic model is nearing completion. Plans will be submitted to the Kentucky Department of Water for review on January 30. The District and Bell Engineering are continuing to explore additional funding sources and work on completing the design for Phase II and III is ongoing.

District representatives and Bell Engineering staff met with AML in Frankfort on January 12 to make a presentation for funding water lines and a treatment plant for the proposed prison at Roxana. Bowman said AML had a positive reaction to the presentation and that he anticipates a decision on funding within 30 days. A meeting to discuss specifics with the Kentucky Department of Water on the prison project is scheduled for January 30. Design of the water lines is nearing completion and Bell Engineering plans to formally submit the project to KYDOW within the next month. Planning on the sewer system will begin at a later date.

The Corrective Action Plan to correct problems with small amounts of the toxic material TTHM is underway and monthly sampling is being done. The substance is a byproduct of chlorine used to disinfect the water and contamination is sometimes caused when water stands in tanks. Lewis said the elevation in the Letcher County system sometimes causes water to stand in tanks for a significant amount of time. The maximum containment level for TTHM is 0.080 milligrams per liter and the average in the Letcher County lines is 0.081.

Trihalomethanes is a collective term for a group of four chemicals that are formed along with other disinfection byproducts when chlorine or other disinfectants used to control microbial contaminants in drinking water react with naturally occurring organic and inorganic matter in water. Results of January sampling will be submitted to KYDOW on February 8, along with a long-term corrective action plan.

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