One year later: Water service was issue during power outages

PARKERSBURG – A major concern after the 2012 derecho was how to keep the water flowing.

The disastrous storm on June 29, 2012, disrupted power on a massive scale in the region, impacting basic services including water.

“It was an eye-opening experience,” Parkersburg Utility Board Manager Eric Bennett said. “I hope it doesn’t happen again.”

Water districts advised customers to keep their water consumption to a minimum during the storm’s aftermath.

In the past year, municipalities in the region have purchased backup generators in the event of another major power outage. Parkersburg obtained additional generators for the water plant and the pumping stations, Bennett said.

“We are better prepared than we were,” he said.

Whenever outages occur, the priority is to check for damages, deal with those and then see if power can be restored to some level, he said. The city of Parkersburg has 17 sewer pump stations and 15 water pump stations that need power to run. Crews were able to move around different generators to needed spots to be able to keep some systems operational, Bennett said.

DuPont Washington Works also donated a generator to the city for a few days to keep systems operational. With all of the challenges presented at the time, Bennett felt the city successfully handled the situation. With additional generators, Bennett said the city should be able to handle a future emergency.

“If we have a small scale emergency, we can handle the bumps in the road,” he said.

The city of Vienna acquired five new generators, Mayor Randy Rapp said.

“All of the water wells have emergency backup power,” he said. “The sewer plant, the city building, the police department and the fire department all have auxiliary power. If there is another power outage, city services should be at around 100 percent.”

Vienna also updated its emergency plan with an improved communications process.

“We have a better plan than we did a year ago,” Rapp said.

The city partnered with churches, utilizing their networks of people and contacts to provide information to the public in a way enough people would be able to get it. A prepared evacuation shelter will be in place at Wayside United Methodist Church with Ohio Valley University serving as the backup site with campsite facilities with electrical hook-ups as well as kitchen facilities at the dorms that can be utilized.

Last year, many people were relying on cell phones.

Rapp recently met with officials with Verizon who offered the use of portable towers in a time of emergency. The portable system would have generators and allow a network to be put back in place for use by anyone.

“People would be able to text and talk with one another,” Rapp said.

The city was given priority codes that would allow city officials and emergency personnel to be able to communicate with other emergency responders and emergency services personnel in the area.

“I am confident we will be much more prepared,” Rapp said, if another event like the derecho occurs.

Rapp advises people to have an emergency plan of their own in place, making sure they have things like bottled water and batteries for flashlights in place if needed.

“People need to take care of their families,” he said.

Last year during the power outage, officials in Williamstown were concerned with the real possibility of running out of water, said Williamstown Public Works Director Alan Gates.

“We were at a critical point,” he said.

Through the efforts of Mayor Jean Ford and city officials, power was restored in time to get water services back in operation, Gates said.

Afterward, officials assessed their power needs and what was needed to handle this kind of situation in the future. The city acquired two 30K generators. Both the water and sewer plants are having the hook-ups installed to allow the generators to be plugged in and operated. The generators can power one water well as well as a lift pump and allow the water to be treated.

The other generator would join a 60K generator at the sewer plant to maintain operations.

Even with the generators, in the event of an emergency people would be asked to conserve water as the generators are limited.

Since last year, public works officials have had a number of meetings with utilities and emergency officials to discuss what to do if something like the derecho happened again. Gates said these meetings might not have happened if the storm last year had not occurred.

“It was definitely an eye-opener,” Gates said.

Belpre Safety Service Director Dave Ferguson said the city was well prepared to handle what happened last year as the majority of water service was maintained throughout the city.

“We did reasonably well,” he said. “There may have been some minor problems pumping to some of the outlining areas.”

Most of Belpre’s water system was gravity-fed. Officials were able to take generators to needed areas to maintain service.

“Everyone I know of had water service,” Ferguson said. “The biggest issue was fuel availability for city vehicles.”

With so many electrical lines down with fallen trees and such, the priority for city crews was to get tree limbs out of the streets so when electrical crews arrived they could get in and be able to get to work at restoring power.

“We wanted to make sure everything was ready for them to get through,” Ferguson said.

Belpre is an older city with a lot of large trees in a number of areas.

“In storms, we lose some that come down in high winds,” Ferguson said.

The city operated a cooling station at the Belpre Volunteer Fire Department Training Center. Food and water were donated.

City crews are regularly monitoring weather reports when inclement weather is approaching. Crews also make sure appropriate vehicles and equipment have needed fuel. Ferguson said they were ready during a recent threat of bad weather.

“The tanks were topped off,” he said. “We were prepared, just in case.”