UPDATED 8/30: Water-Line Flushing to Resume Monday

Updated Monday, 8/30

Elkins, W. Va., August 27, 2021: Elkins crews have completed flushing water lines in Fourth Ward and Fifth Ward. There will be no flushing Friday night. Work will continue Monday 5 p.m.-5 a.m., when crews will start flushing lines south of Eleventh Street, including all of First Ward in Third and Second Wards. [Update: the change is because of water-line relocation work scheduled for South Elkins Monday at 4.]

“We’re making good time so far,” says Wes Lambert, the chief operator of the city’s water system. “The Street Department was good enough to detail four men to assist, so that has really helped us move quickly.”

After flushing is complete in a given section of the city, the Elkins Fire Department performs flow testing on each hydrant to verify that they are operating according to specifications. Although flow testing only requires hydrants to be open for a few minutes, it takes longer than flushing because each hydrant must be tested. Flushing does not require opening every hydrant, because many sit near each other on the same line.

Even though the overall goal of the flushing is to reduce sediment in water lines, customers in or near a section of the city that is being flushed may temporarily experience heightened discoloration in their water. This does not indicate that the water is unsafe to drink, cook with, or bathe in, but it would be advisable to avoid doing laundry until any remaining sediment has settled once again.

Customers experiencing cloudy or discolored water can try leaving taps open in a bathtub or sink for 20 minutes. It is important not to run hot water, however, as that would fill the building’s water heater with water that contains sediments.

Each week, the city will use its social media channels, email alert list, and website to announce which sections of the city will be flushed. The information will also be supplied to the media.

To keep up with City of Elkins news and announcements about this and other topics, bookmark our website (www.cityofelkinswv.com), sign up for email alerts (www.cityofelkinswv.com/newsletter-signup), and follow us via Facebook (www.facebook.com/elkinscityhall) or Twitter (www.twitter.com/elkinscityhall). The Water Line Flushing Map is here: www.bit.ly/Elkins-Flushing-Map.

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Water-Line Flushing Starts Wednesday

Elkins, W. Va., August 24, 2021: The City of Elkins Water Distribution Department will begin flushing the city’s water lines on Wednesday night, the chief operator of the city’s water system announced today. The flushing will be performed 5 p.m.-5 a.m. Monday-Friday as other work allows. This week’s flushing will focus on Fourth Ward and U.S. Route 33 eastward from its intersection with Randolph Avenue.

The purpose of the flushing, which the health department recommends be performed every six months, is to reduce the volume of rust, mineral deposits, and other sediments in underground water pipes that can cause cloudy or discolored water at the tap.

In 2017, the city built a new, state-of-the-art plant to purify water from the Tygart Valley River. This water must travel to Elkins homes and businesses through a network of much older pipes, however, some of which have been in the ground for the better part of a century.

“Our water plant puts out high-quality, extremely pure drinking water, but some of the pipes that water has to go out through are really old and not in the greatest condition,” says Wes Lambert, the water system’s chief operator. “That fancy new plant doesn’t mean a whole lot to someone who gets brown water when they turn on the faucet.”

To flush the lines, Water Distribution Department workers will systematically open fire hydrants and let the water flow at full force for a prescribed amount of time. The flushing will be combined with flow testing to ensure each hydrant is operating in accordance with fire department requirements.

“The flushing is not a perfect process because of the way the system has grown over the years,” says Lambert. “There are some parts of the city where, because of hydrant location and the hydrodynamics of the pipe network in that area, we aren’t able to flush as much as we would like. But the hope is that by flushing everywhere we can on a regular basis, it will still reduce the overall volume of sediment in the pipes citywide.”

Another reason flushing is not always a cure-all for discolored water is because the rust or other sediments affecting certain customers may originate in their own service lines, the pipes that connect the city-maintained water mains to each customer’s house or building.

“If the rust is coming from a customer’s service line, the flushing we’re doing is not going to help a whole lot,” says Lambert, who points out that the city is responsible for water lines only until they reach each customer’s water meter. “In that case, the customer is going to need to consult with a plumber to see what they might be able to do.”

Lambert explains that the goal is to complete this round of flushing within about a month but concedes it may take longer.

“If our guys could do this every night, we’d be able to wrap up in about a month. But we know there are going to be water-line breaks and other projects that come along, so it will probably run longer than that.”

Although the overall goal of the flushing is to reduce sediment in water lines, customers in or near a section of the city that is being flushed may temporarily experience heightened discoloration in their water. This does not indicate that the water is unsafe to drink, cook with, or bathe in, but it would be advisable to avoid doing laundry until any remaining sediment has settled once again.

Customers experiencing cloudy or discolored water can try leaving taps open in a bathtub or sink for 20 minutes. It is important not to run hot water, however, as that would fill the building’s water heater with water that contains sediments.

Each week, the city will use its social media channels, email alert list, and website to announce which sections of the city will be flushed. The information will also be supplied to the media.

City officials are currently investigating whether funds awarded to Elkins under the American Rescue Project Act (ARPA) may be used to replace older water mains and make other improvements to the water distribution system.

“We are hoping to take some concrete steps soon toward a more permanent solution for customers experiencing discolored water,” says Lambert. “Until then, regular line flushing is the best tool we have for at least reducing the problems people are having. Unfortunately, some people are going to see discolored water as we proceed. We just hope everyone will be patient and bear with us as we get this program rolling again.”

To keep up with City of Elkins news and announcements about this and other topics, bookmark our website (www.cityofelkinswv.com), sign up for email alerts (www.cityofelkinswv.com/newsletter-signup), and follow us via Facebook (www.facebook.com/elkinscityhall) or Twitter (www.twitter.com/elkinscityhall).

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Some Elkins Water Customers May See Higher Bills

Accounts with past estimated usage are most likely to see increases

Elkins, W. Va., May 21, 2021: Water meters are being replaced throughout Elkins, and some customers may see higher bills as a result. This is not because of a rate increase or inaccurate meters but because certain customers’ bills were being estimated, and their actual water usage has increased in the meantime.

City of Elkins uses remote-read water meters. Instead of needing to be read manually by city personnel, these meters transmit reading data (i.e., how much water has been used) to be collected by a roving vehicle as it passes each of the city’s approximately 4,400 water-customer locations.

Water meters are being replaced for all 4,400 City of Elkins water customers because they are out of warranty, and their data transmitters were beginning to fail. Approximately half have been replaced already.

When meters stop transmitting, City of Elkins water bills are based on estimated readings. Estimated readings are the average of the most recent 12 months’ bills.

Customers who were receiving estimated bills might see increases once their meter has been replaced and their actual usage is once again being received by the city’s Utility Billing department.

When water bills increase after meter replacement, the usual reason is that water usage was previously being estimated, and it rose during the period of estimation. Such increases could result from the household adding new members or appliances. It could also result from undetected leaks that developed during the period of estimation.

These increased charges do not result from recapturing the entire under-billed amount, which the city does not do. Instead, with the new meters in place, accounts that were being estimated are now being billed based on actual usage data each period. Accounts whose usage increased during the period of estimation will therefore see higher bills going forward.

Paper bills for accounts being estimated indicate this by showing an “e” next to the usage amount. Electronic bills do not indicate whether an account’s charges are being estimated, but customers can call Utility Billing to find out. The W. Va. Public Service Commission (PSC), which regulates water and other utilities in this state, does not specify how long utilities may use estimated readings.

City of Elkins water customers with questions about their bills or who wish to inquire about setting up a payment plan are encouraged to contact Utility Billing.

Additional information and answers to frequently asked questions about the water meter replacement project may be found here: www.bit.ly/ElkinsWaterMeters

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Elkins Resuming Utilities Shutoffs August 5

Shutoffs Had Been Suspended Since March

Elkins, W. Va., July 29, 2020: City of Elkins water and sewer utilities will recommence shutting off service for unpaid bills starting Wednesday, August 5, officials announced today. The city suspended shutoffs in March on the recommendation of the West Virginia Public Service Commission (PSC). (more…)

What’s with the “E” on my water bill?

If you see an “E” next to the number in the “present” column of your water bill, you are looking at an “estimated reading.”

The water meters in use here in Elkins have built-in transmitters that are supposed to automatically send water usage information to our water utility’s billing department. However, as you may have heard, our remote-read water meters are getting old. About 600 of them no longer have working transmitters, and we are working on a project to replace them later this year. (More on that below.)

Again, all that is broken are the transmitters–these meters still record usage information accurately. However, we don’t have the workforce to read that many meters manually every month. Instead, several readings in a row may have to be estimated, based on the average of the most recent 12 remote-read months. (In that case, you’ll see an “E” on your bill.) Then, when a manual reading is taken, the actual cumulative total usage is recorded and billed (which corrects for any under- or over-estimation).

The city plans to replace our current remote-read water meters but cannot yet announce a date when this project will be complete. Several steps are still pending, including project approval from the USDA (the source of the money, which comes from unexpended water-plant construction funds), open bidding for a contractor to complete the project, and custom coding of a module in our billing software for importing usage data from the new meters. This project is estimated to cost $1.2 million.

We’ll update you as soon as this project gets rolling and we can firm up the projected completion date.

Disclaimers and fine print: We can only pay for new water meters with funds from the water utility—in this case, those funds left over after completion of the water-plant construction project. Those leftover funds, in turn, can’t be used for anything but water system projects. If we returned that leftover money to the lender, it wouldn’t lower water rates, and then we’d need a new loan (and a new water-rate increase) to fund replacing the water meters. Replacing the water meters this way will not require a rate increase (but remember, we are still awaiting USDA approval to use the money this way).

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