Shepherdstown water crisis a race against time

June 19, 2006|by DAVE McMILLION


The effort to find a large leak in Shepherdstown's water system was turning into a race against time Sunday.

The challenge?

Find the leak before the town runs out of water.

Town officials were worried about the possibility of the undetected leak, combined with the town's water usage, draining all the water out of the town's two 500,000-gallon storage tanks along W.Va. 45 west of town, said Town Recorder Cindy Cook.

Not only would that leave everyone without water, but it would make it very difficult to find the leak, Cook said.


"That's been my fear for three days now," Cook said.

To prevent that situation from happening, town officials were urging town residents to conserve water as much as possible while officials work to find the leak, which has been causing the release of up to 2,000 gallons of water a minute.

Tanker trucks filled with drinking water brought in from other areas were parked around the Shepherdstown area Sunday. Town officials were encouraging people to use portable toilets set up around town in an attempt to save water.

"The less stress we put on the water system, the less chance we have of running out," Cook said.

On Sunday, town officials brought in a firm from the Philadelphia area that specializes in finding large leaks to help them find the leak. Also, town officials were closing off sections of the town water supply Sunday, then watching to see if the storage tanks would slowly begin to fill up. That way, they would know if they had isolated the problem, Cook said.

"It's a time-consuming process," she said.

The town draws its water from the Potomac River. After the water is treated, it is stored in the two tanks, which provide the system's water pressure.

The water level is typically 90 feet in the tanks, but with the mysterious leak and customer usage drawing down the supply, the level Sunday night stood at about 24 feet, Cook said.

Hundreds of customers have already seen their spigots run dry and have been without service for at least two days, Cook said. Those customers closest to the water tanks have been running out of service first, Cook said.

All of the residents in the Mecklenburg Heights subdivision along W.Va. 45 west of town have been without water since Saturday, and parts of the Willowdale subdivision and the Cress Creek community along Shepherd Grade Road have been without service, Cook said.

Businesses did their part to help conserve water.

The town set up four portable toilets at the Clarion Hotel and Conference Center and the hotel's estimated 75 guests Sunday night were encouraged to use the toilets to save water, said Tripp Lowe, director of hotel and restaurant operations.

Lowe's family owns the Clarion, and the Yellow Brick Bank and Three Onions restaurants in town, and Lowe said he purchased 55 cases of bottled water for patrons at the three establishments.

To cut back on dishwasher use, plastic utensils were used at the Clarion and the two restaurants, Lowe said.

Bottled water also was served to customers at the Bavarian Inn & Lodge and co-owner Erwin Asam said he has encouraged about 120 people who were scheduled to stay at the inn to find accommodations elsewhere to help ease the town's water woes.

"That hurts," Asam said, referring to the financial hit he took from encouraging guests to stay elsewhere.

At Shepherd University, bottled water was being provided for summer-school students and people attending conferences there, university spokeswoman Valerie Owens said Sunday.

Portable toilets also were placed on the campus and more could be ordered depending on how the situation develops, Owens said.

Where to get water ...

The Town of Shepherdstown has tanker trucks filled with drinking water at various locations around the community. Portable toilets also are available.

The water tank trucks are at:

  • The Food Lion supermarket along W.Va. 45

  • In front of Town Hall along King Street

  • The parking lot of Cress Creek Golf & Country Club

Portable toilets are at:

  • Town Hall on King Street

  • In the parking lot by the Shepherdstown Police Department on Princess Street

  • In Mecklenburg Heights on W.Va. 45

  • On Duke Street near the intersection with Washington Street

  • Next to Shepherdstown Elementary School

  • The Train Station on Audrey Egle Drive

If town residents must use city water for drinking, they have been urged to bring it to a "rolling boil" for one minute before using. Updates on the situation will be given on the town's Web site at

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