Most customers of the Letcher County Water and Sewer District and the Fleming-Neon Water Company should have water service once again, according to county and city officials. However, “boil water” advisories remain in effect.
Letcher County Judge/Executive Jim Ward declared two states of emergencies Friday, one pertaining to water problems in Fleming-Neon and one concerning problems with the county’s system. About 3,000 customers were without water for various amounts of time from Friday through Tuesday.
“Whitesburg had a line break and couldn’t supply us with enough water,” said Ward. “They had to backwash their filters. Whitesburg wouldn’t let us start pumping water on Friday.”
The City of Whitesburg’s waterworks is operated by Veolia Water.
Ward said the Knott County Interconnect, which pulls water from Carr Creek Lake, was finished early Saturday morning so the county could tap into that water source. Ward said the project, which was funded through Abandoned Mine Lands (AML) and coal severance funds, has been nearly finished for almost a year, but workers still had to bore under a railroad track at Colson to complete the project. Ward said that after spending about six hours on telephone calls with CSX officials on Friday, the company finally gave its permission to bore under the tracks about midnight. He said were able to get the lines connected Saturday morning.
“If there is anything good coming out of this, it is getting that interconnect,” said Ward. “Now we’ve got two water sources.”
Ward said Colson and Camp Branch got water on Sunday, while the Little Colley and Isom areas got water back Monday. Ward said workers were still trying to get water to Blackey on Tuesday.
Ward said the water and sewer district’s board of directors voted in August to stop producing water at the Blackey plant. The district, which provides water to more than 2,000 rural customers, has been getting all of its water from Whitesburg since then.
“(The Blackey plant was) getting older and (was) costing twice as much to produce water than what we can buy it for,” said Ward.
Ward said most customers in Blackey were expected to get have water service restored by midnight on Tuesday, with the exception of those who live in higher elevations. He said the boil-water advisory is to likely remain in effect for at least two more days.
An interruption in water service in Fleming-Neon was caused by a lack of water in an abandoned coal mine which serves as the water source for the town’s 1,150 customers.
Charles Sergent, electrician for Fleming-Neon Water Company, said most customers should have water service restored by now, the exception there also being those who live in higher elevations.
“We have water in all of our tanks today,” Sergent said Tuesday afternoon. “There are few that don’t have water today. We are recovering and are getting water back in our tanks.”
Sergent said the tanks have to be filled back up slowly.
“We have worked around the clock,” he said. “I personally am trying my best to restore water as quick as I can.”
Sergent said the water company had been having problems with its water sources for about three weeks. He said the water pool is usually low in November, December and January.
“Our water just fell out,” said Sergent. “It just disappeared about a week and a half ago.”
The water comes from two wells located about 150 feet underground in an old abandoned mine in Sheas Fork in McRoberts. Sergent said there is no way to tell how much water is the wells. He said the water was recently contaminated with red debris and clogged the filters at the processing plant.
“We had to use water to clean the filters and that in turn got us in a situation where we couldn’t maintain the water demand,” said Sergent. “It takes days to clean those filters.”
A boil-water advisory for Fleming Neon was issued Friday.
Sergent said water samples will be taken both down stream and upstream and will be sent to a laboratory in Pikeville to be analyzed. Then the health department and division of water will notify the water company as to when the boil-water advisory can be lifted.
“We’ve got to run those tests to make sure there aren’t any contaminants in the water,” said Sergent.
Some residents in the McRoberts area are questioning whether the water source was damaged by a natural gas drilling operation.