The beleaguered water district in Martin County announced it was turning off service to several areas Tuesday and was struggling to get water flowing to many customers early Wednesday, prompting hardships and criticism.
The district said on its Facebook page that storage tanks had been drained recently because of “high water usage, busted meters, etc.”
District office manager Joe Hammond told the Herald-Leader that use was high because people were leaving water running to keep pipes from freezing.
The district said on Facebook that it would turn off water to many areas in the eastern end of the county at 3 p.m. Tuesday and restore service at 5 a.m. Wednesday, and that “this will be happening until further notice.”
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The message indicated the purpose of the outage affecting hundreds of customers was to let the water district refill storage tanks.
Many customers were not happy, citing difficulties in being able to cook, bathe and flush toilets.
“My dogs are thirsty and my child needs a bath,” Mary Burlingame posted on the district’s page. “I can’t wash my dishes and my toilets smell like they are an out house. This is really bad.”
Others said it was not right to cut off some customers and not others.
“What irritates me, the people in Inez don’t do without water,” Gabriella Page, who lives in the far eastern end of the county at Warfield, told the Herald-Leader. “It’s very discriminatory.”
Page, 34, who is studying online for a degree in forensic psychology, said she saw no notice Tuesday that service would be cut off.
After a neighbor told her she had seen the notice on Facebook, Page went to fill her sink and some jugs so she would have some water, but the taps were already dry, she said.
“We had no warning at all that I actually seen myself,” she said.
Page said her water came back on about 6:30 a.m. Wednesday. The pressure was low and the water was dirty, she said.
She said she had heard from a friend near the Pike County border who still didn’t have service at 11 a.m.
Several other customers posted comments saying their service had not been restored as promised early Wednesday, leaving them unable to clean up before work.
The water district said on Facebook on Wednesday at 9 a.m. that it had turned on the water as planned at 5 a.m. and that it was trying to fill storage tanks so pumps could be turned back on.
However, leaks were preventing filling the tanks adequately, the district said.
Workers were looking for leaks, according to the post, but problems continued through the day.
The district announced on its Facebook page that it would again shut off water to several areas of the county Wednesday evening and then resume service Thursday morning.
The action was necessary to avoid damaging pump-station motors that can be hurt by low water pressure, according to the post, which apologized for the “major inconvenience.”
The county emergency management office planned to distribute drinking water at the Tug Valley Sanitation plant in Warfield Thursday morning, the district said.
The Martin County Concerned Citizens group was looking into whether there were emergency options to restore consistent service, Mary Cromer, an attorney for the group, said early Wednesday.
The outage this week comes as the district is seeking a 50 percent rate increase, Cromer said.
The water district, which has about 3,500 meters, has a history of problems, including leaky lines, low pressure and poor water quality.
Page said that even before the outage this week, there were times when the water coming from the tap at her house looked like chocolate milk.
The state Public Service Commission said in an order last summer that the district’s water-loss rate has topped 60 percent in recent years, meaning more than half the water it treated leaked out into the ground.
That rate is four times the 15 percent loss normally allowed under state standards, the PSC said.
The commission said it has identified problems in the district going back to the late 1990s, including lack of routine maintenance and failure to follow proper management practices.
The district did not complete many of the improvements the PSC ordered after two investigations, according to the commission.
The PSC announced a new investigation of the water system last April.
That inquiry is ongoing, with a hearing scheduled next week, Cromer said.
Cromer said the water system was not designed to serve nearly as many customers as it does, and that work to expand lines to new customers was done badly.
“They’re just collapsing,” she said of water lines.
The situation means the water system is asking people to pay for water they don’t receive, Cromer said.