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Water plant is prepared for worst

February 20, 2003|by SCOTT BUTKI

scottb@herald-mail.com

The last time the area was pounded by a major snowstorm, a subsequent melt and rainfall took the Potomac River over its banks and Hagerstown's water plant was flooded.

As a result of the 1996 flooding at the R.C. Willson Water Treatment Plant near Williamsport, the city's 75,000 water customers could not use water for three days, and had to boil water for 10 days after that.

But don't worry, city officials said Wednesday, steps have been taken to ensure the problem that arose in the wake of the January 1996 storm won't be repeated.

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Shortly after more than 3 feet of snow fell in back-to-back storms in 1996, followed by rain and flooding, the city adopted a new flood emergency plan for Hagerstown's water department. The plan outlines how to prevent disaster by proper use of valve closings.

Mayor William Breichner, who once managed the water department, said the plan and increased training of department employees about plant valves would prevent a repeat of the 1996 situation.

One of two 30-inch valves that control the water flow from the Potomac River into the R.C. Willson Water Treatment Plant failed to operate on the evening of Jan. 19, 1996. The other valve was closed.

Floodwaters reached the plant and damaged the pumps. Plant personnel on duty weren't aware of backup valves that, if closed, would have prevented the disaster, Breichner said.

Plant employees later went through training on the valves and all current employees have that information, Breichner and Water Pollution Control Manager Dave Shindle said Wednesday.

While people were not happy about having to boil their water, "the customers were very understanding. It is an event that does not happen that often," Shindle said.

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