Targeting South Elkins Water Problems
New Valves, Better Advance Warning
Elkins, W. Va., December 18, 2021: Elkins Water Board employees are installing new valves and implementing additional notification practices in response to the recent spike in water-main breaks and service interruptions in South Elkins. The purpose of these steps is to reduce the size of the area affected by outages and to provide residents with at least one hour’s warning before most outages.
This year’s huge increase in water-main breaks in South Elkins is the result of a perfect storm of problems both old and new: Corroded cast-iron water pipes long past end of life; exceptionally soft, unstable soil; and further destabilization of that soil by the extensive excavation work for this year’s sewer/stormwater separation project.
A Shortage of Valves
The 19 water outages that have occurred in South Elkins so far during 2021 would be bad enough on their own, but there is an additional factor making them even more painful for the area’s residents: the small number of functioning valves in that section of the water system.
“Past generations weren’t as systematic about installing valves throughout the system as current standards would require,” says Wes Lambert, chief operator of the Elkins water system. “Then too, many of the valves that are in the ground today were put there decades ago and have started to fail.”
Lambert says that the shortage of valves results in water outages across much wider areas than he would prefer.
“Because of how few working valves we have, we try to avoid turning off water to repair leaks, but sometimes there is no way around it,” he explains. “With as few working valves as there are in that part of town, oftentimes we end up being forced to shut off water for most of South Elkins.”
To address the problem of needlessly widespread water outages, Lambert has ordered the installation of five new valves in key locations throughout South Elkins over the next two months. Lambert also has a plan to avoid the outages that would typically be required during the traditional process of valve installation.
“We are doing these as insertion valves,” says Lambert. “That’s a technique where the valve is able to be installed on a live water line without the need to shut the water off.”
Lambert chose this method to avoid causing additional undue burden on the neighborhood’s water customers.
“Insertion valves do end up costing about 30-40 percent more,” he says. “But given the availability of ARPA funds and just how much pain customers in that area have been going through, it seems like a very worthwhile use of the money. These new valves won’t reduce the number of water-line breaks, unfortunately, but they should reduce the need to shut water off across such a wide area every time one does.”
Reducing the number of water-main breaks will require widespread replacement of the failing lines, a project that will likely take the better part of a decade and cost tens of millions of dollars. As a first step in that direction, council recently dedicated a share of the city’s ARPA funds allotment to retaining an engineering firm to formulate a plan for this project. Read more about council’s prioritization of ARPA funds for infrastructure projects here: www.cityofelkinswv.com/council-focuses-on-infrastructure-for-arpa-funds.
Advance Warning of Water Outages
Lambert has also instituted a new procedure under which the city will provide advance warning before a water outage occurs in most cases.
“We can’t predict when a pipe will spring a leak, but we can almost always get the word out that we are investigating a leak at least an hour before we actually turn the water off,” he says. “There could be exceptions, such as if a truck takes out a hydrant and someone’s basement is being flooded. But in most cases, we can provide at least an hour’s warning and usually a few hours.”
The purpose of this warning is to allow residents to fill bathtubs, finish showers, and make other preparations for a period of low or no water pressure until repairs are complete.
To receive these warnings via text message, customers must sign up for City of Elkins Nixle alerts.
The city’s Nixle alerts, which always begin with the word “Elkins,” are sent by city personnel over the Randolph County OEM Nixle system. Customers who already receive countywide Nixle alerts will still need to sign up separately to receive City of Elkins alerts.
The signup page to receive City of Elkins Nixle alerts is here: www.cityofelkinswv.com/emergency-text-notifications.
Customers needing assistance signing up for this service should email the Office of External Affairs: firstname.lastname@example.org.
More information about the city’s water system is available here: www.cityofelkinswv.com/living/public-service-utilities/elkins-water-board.