Update: PSD board chairman Tom Shipley reported on February 20 that a PSC engineer was on-site on February 19 and assisted with a temporary repair that restored water service to the four affected households. Workers were able to attach a smaller surface pipe to the water main upstream from the problem and the four hookups now have water. The residents have agreed to let their spigots run a bit to keep the water moving and the line from freezing.
A water crisis, different than the one down-state, has affected four Durbin households. Rather than a chemical spill, cold weather is the culprit in a small neighborhood along the West Fork at the foot of Back Allegheny Mountain. The Pocahontas Public Service District (PSD) water customers have been without water since February 3 due to frozen lines and PSD officials say nothing can be done until the ground thaws.
Paula Wood, a resident in the affected area, said her neighbor received disconcerting news from PSD Water Operations Manager Rick Barkley.
“Mr. Barkley first told our neighbor that it would be spring before it could be fixed,” she said. “None of us in here were very happy to hear that. We went to a town meeting and the next day they were out working on it. They’re digging but nothing’s been done. They have no clue when the water will be fixed.”
Living next to an uncontaminated river has proven to be an advantage for the community during the water outage.
“It’s really hard, as far as sanitary conditions,” said Wood. “You have to go to the river to bring buckets of water to flush the commode. You have to heat up river water to boiling to wash dishes and that’s an inconvenience. I, personally, can go to my daughter, who lives in town, to take showers, so that’s not a big deal for me. But my neighbor has a disabled daughter and it’s really, really hard on her.”
Neighborhood resident Rodney Bennett said the PSD has not focused on fixing the problem.
“They’re digging but they still can’t find the waterline,” he said. “For two weeks, they worked on it for two hours one day, and two hours the next day, and two-and-a-half hours another day. That’s all they’ve worked on it. I don’t know why they’re not doing more. We’re the only ones without water and they’re not really working anywhere else. The backhoe’s still sitting out here. It’s been sitting here at the end of my road since Wednesday [February 12], when they brought it in. There was a few warm days when they could have been out there working”
Bennett said the PSD should bring in outside help.
“If they can’t do it with that backhoe, why couldn’t they bring in a bigger excavator and get it done?” he asked.
Kathleen Mick said she had spoken with a Public Service Commission (PSC) representative, who told her that, as long as the local utility is providing drinking water, the PSC would not get involved. The PSD has been delivering drinking water, for which the residents expressed gratitude. But Mick said more should have been done sooner.
“If they would have worked on it in the first week it happened – we had two or three good days – if they would have worked, we probably would have had water on,” she said.
On Monday, Barkley said the utility had worked on the problem to no avail.
“We’ve been digging and trying to find the problem, but the ground is froze and the waterline is froze,” he said. “It’s just hard to dig and everything to get to it. We dug yesterday and found the line in one spot, and we actually busted it and turned everybody off for awhile until we got it fixed. But [the affected households] don’t have any water yet. It’s still frozen somewhere else.”
Barkley said excavation on Sunday had revealed that water was reaching that far in the line. The manager said work would continue farther down the waterline on Tuesday.
“The worst thing is, the ground’s so hard,” he said. “If you’re digging and you bust that two-inch line, then you’ve got to replace it and it gets costly and time consuming after awhile. It’s pretty rocky in that area. It was at least three-feet deep where we dug that up yesterday, probably close to three-and-a-half feet.”
Barkley could not say when water service would be restored for the four families.
“I couldn’t give you an idea at all,” he said.
On Monday evening, PSD board president Tom Shipley said he had informed the county commission about the Durbin water problem and directed Barkley to provide updates on repair efforts.