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Huge water lead found in Shepherdstown

June 18, 2006|by RICHARD F. BELISLE / Staff Correspondent

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.VA.

A state of emergency was declared Saturday morning in Shepherdstown, prompted by a major leak in the town's public water system that threatens to cut off water from the system's nearly 1,500 customers.

It is the second time since March that a leak in the system has interrupted water service in Shepherdstown. The system was down for about 10 hours then because the leak was easy to find since the water had bubbled to the surface, said Frank Welch, director of public works for the town.

"We don't know where it's going, but it has to be going somewhere," he said.

The system, which gets its water from the Potomac River, pumps water into two 500,000-gallon tanks on W.Va. 45 west of Shepherdstown at a rate of about 800 gallons per minute. The tanks provide the system with water pressure.

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More water is leaving the tanks than is being pumped in because of a leak somewhere in the system, Welch said.

The normal water level in the tanks is about 80 feet, Welch said.

"It dropped to 20 feet today," he said.

The leak was discovered shortly after noon Thursday, Welch said.

Cindy Cook, town recorder as well as acting mayor while Mayor Peter Wilson is out of town, declared the state of emergency.

Customers who still had water - the number of customers was unknown Saturday night - are being told to boil it hard for a full minute before drinking "as a precautionary measure," Cook said.

"There's been no evidence of contamination," she said.

The Jefferson County Emergency Management Team placed tanker trucks near Town Hall on North King Street, in the parking lot of Food Lion, and at Cress Creek on Shepherd Grade Road so residents can get water until the problem is corrected. They are being asked to bring containers.

The leak not only is affecting residents, but area hotels, restaurants and a local nursing home as well.

One theory is that the leaking water is running into bedrock or an underground sinkhole.

"It's not popping up on the surface," Cook said.

Technical staff from the West Virginia Rural Water Association were called in, but they couldn't find any leaks, she said.

Town workers have been trying to pin down the leak by cutting off service in specified areas to see if levels stabilize in other sections of the system. Crews used a listening device, but still could not find a leak.

Welch said he will call a professional leak-detecting expert from the Hershey, Pa., area today to search for the leak.

A telephone recording at Town Hall around noon Saturday said water service was expected to be restored in the Cress Creek and Willowdale housing developments by midday, but that turned out not to be true, Welch said.

Residents can stay updated by calling Town Hall at 304-876-2398 or by going to the town's Web site at www.shepherdstown.us.

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