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Water Update from Giles County Executive Graham Stowe

25 Jan Water Update

This is lengthy but for those interested, this is a fairly comprehensive download on countywide water issues - where we are today and how we’re preparing for the future.  A lot of people  are without water, and the only words they want to hear are “water is restored.”  After over a week without running water frustrations are mounting – completely understandable. 

But if anyone wants to speak intelligently on our water issues, I hope this list is helpful.

•  Best source for real-time info is being disseminated via social media:  Whatever is being posted there is being immediately shared w/ the utility districts and local media. •   Let’s open with nobody in Giles County has “county water.”  We have county-wide water, but that’s different from a county water system.  That doesn’t mean the county isn’t involved in improving our water systems.  But the dialogue has to start with how our water is sourced and distributed.•   We essentially have one water source – the Pulaski Water Plant.  All four water utility districts are daisy-chained into that one source.  We occasionally get water from Limestone County, but that source may not be dependable long-term.  

For now, though, Limestone County supplies some water to South Giles, and Lewisburg supplies Fairview for part of the Lynnville area.  •  The daisy-chain configuration is our Achilles Heel; i.e. if Tarpley Shop has no water, then neither do many parts of South Giles.  Minor Hill & Fairview fare similarly.  

Succinctly, we don’t so much have a water availability problem, we have a water distribution problem, and have for a long time.  

In my opinion, we don’t have near the isolation valves and cross-connects that we should (ideally) have.   •   Kudos to Mayor J. J.  Brindley for getting all the water experts together in one room this morning for a meeting.  

Emphasis was on restoring water and coordinating public messaging.  

From Day One of the snow storm, we’ve had a strong team of capable people working around the clock on our water issues.  •   City officials and utility districts are focused on the “right-now” … yes, there are long-term needs, but we’re trying to improvise and overcome to get water pushed out into the county, particularly Tarpley Shop.•   Nobody can overcome physics:  The city must fill the Magazine Road tank to 13’ in order to gravity-feed downstream.  

The tank level since yesterday afternoon has been rising.  This is an aspect of the daisy-chain challenge. •  There are too many variables to estimate when water can be restored.  E.g. There are numerous unoccupied homes/outbuildings with leaks.  Utilities have been working hard to locate and secure those leaks.  At this point we don’t appear to be dealing with system leaks as much as customer leaks.  

Another variable – incessant rain makes water treatment more time-consuming.  I.e. Heavy rain isn’t helping matters.  •   Bobby Page (South Giles) and I have asked about the possibility of rolling water outages, similar to “rolling blackouts” when the grid is overwhelmed.  Specifically, if the city or other areas could absorb outages for a few hours, might this help divert water to the Magazine Road Tank?  City officials are looking into that possibility.•          Many constituent brainstorming ideas are well-meaning but not feasible; e.g. a fleet of water tanker-trucks to supply water, or providing mobile shower units.  

        However, after hearing everyone’s ideas in this morning’s meeting, everyone needs to know that people who know the intricacies of our water systems are busy improvising work-arounds to move water to critical tanks.    

  • •       People are demanding to know how this could happen … it’s “unconscionable” etc etc.  That’s a rational impression but it’s the result of years of inadequate attention.  Since Mayor Brindley came aboard and after last year’s debacle, I’ve seen numerous initiatives by the City to improve their infrastructure. And the county has sponsored a grant to push $2.7M out to the utility districts for asset management plans, GIS mapping, and other water system improvements.  

  • No money has been received, because no construction contracts have yet been issued.  

  • Other grant potentials include Community Development Block Grants.  The challenge w/ CDBGs is that we have to statistically demonstrate that the population served is >51% LMI, i.e. low to moderate income.  The CDBGs can be helpful  but are not ideal for system-wide water improvements.  

  • If you’re served by a water utility district, you should know that they receive oversight from the TN Association of Utility Districts and the TN Comptroller’s Office, not the County Commission.  No county revenue – and thus none of your property taxes – go toward water utilities.  

  • Water utilities aren’t unlike power or internet utilities – they’re government regulated but essentially private and independent enterprises. 

  • Longer-term, discussion has started on the possibility of a new Water Treatment Plant, possibly on the Elk River.  

  • Developing a new source would feed our southern region without having to daisy-chain water from Pulaski. Redundancies are always good.  Obviously we’re talking about another multi-million dollar project.  The first step is liaising w/ federal and state reps, and that’s been started.  

  • Jumping to the issue of boil-notices and how to safely comply – If under a boil notice and water is going in the mouth it needs to be boiled/purified; shower & dishwashing requires no boiling. 

  • The County Office of Emergency Management (together w/ Tennessee Emergency Management Agency) has bottled water staged and has advertised its availability to the water districts. When needed, water is distributed primarily through the water districts. 

  • OEM is also working w/ TEMA to determine if we’re eligible for disaster funding. 

  • Josh Young is canvassing estimated costs incurred by local governments/utilities to see if we meet the threshold for assistance.  

  • Why isn’t this considered a “state of emergency”?  Bottom Line – it becomes an emergency when potable drinking water isn’t available.  

  • Emergency Services have worked closely with TEMA to ensure we have bottled water staged, but TEMA’s protocol is that bottled water shouldn’t be distributed unless commercial sources are depleted.  

  • Water districts have distributed bottled water to customers, and OEM has resupplied water districts when commercial sources are depleted.

  • An important point that runs against public opinion:  The forecast for this weather system was known well in advance … as a result the Water Plant and utility districts were as prepared as possible.  

  •  But no amount of preparation can thwart arctic temperatures, especially when pipes are above the frost-line.  Utility districts                                                             emphasize that they’re ready (and have remained ready) to deliver water.  

  • I’m working with the utilities and City of Pulaski to help answer questions/complaints. Angela Jernigan and I are answering county phones as best we can.  

  • While some will complain that “the county is doing nothing,” the county is actively engaged in Emergency Services responses as well as long-term infrastructure improvements.  Short-term I’m working daily with the City, and Mayor Brindley is very attuned to our need to get water distributed throughout the county.  

  • But if you want a timely water update, please don’t call county or city offices. You’ll be better served by visiting the social media link at the top of this newsletter, or contacting your utility district.

  • Apologies if the flow of information seems disjointed, but hopefully it answers some more common questions.  

Last, I thank everyone who has been calm and cordial, who recognize that good people are doing their utmost to correct our problems, and who have been out and about helping neighbors and community.  

The measure of a community is how we respond to hardship; Giles County is a wonderful place to live because people are resilient, reasonable, and generous, especially during hard times.  

Please continue to pray for the men and women who are out serving, responding, repairing … their devotion to duty is commendable.  

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