Responding to the Freedom Industries chemical spill
A couple of weeks ago, water system engineer and president of Carpenter Treatment Solutions, LLC Dayton Carpenter spoke to the Charleston Rotary Club. Through the recent water crisis, Mr. Carpenter has written and spoken out publicly about WV American Water’s poorly maintained water system and the bad judgment of the company’s managers.
In the Charleston Gazette’s article about Mr. Carpenter’s Rotary talk, reporter Rachel Molenda noted a new observation about WVAW’s shaky infrastructure.
Carpenter said his first instinct would have been to close intakes at the treatment plant. But, West Virginia American Water’s distribution, which includes many systems Carpenter designed, wouldn’t allow for that, he said.
“I didn’t understand that there’s 179 pressure zones in the nine counties that West Virginia American Water operates in,” Carpenter said. “Most systems I know, five to seven. May[be] 10 to 12. One-hundred-and-seventy-nine is just astronomical to me.”
Pressure zones are areas in a water company’s system where pressure is generated, either by pumps or gravity feeds from water tanks and towers, to keep hydraulic pressure consistent and water flowing toward customers.
WVAW, over its history in WV, has bought out existing private and public water systems instead of building new systems of its own. Each of these smaller systems, some of them quite small, had their own pumping systems and pressure zones. WVAW centralized it’s water treatment process into one location, but failed to consolidate its pressure zones and pumping system, at least according to Mr. Carpenter, who should know.
If WVAW closes its water intake, instead of monitoring pressures at less than a dozen locations, WVAW has to monitor and maintain pressures at 179 locations. Combine this “astronomical” number of pressure zones with a system with a 37% leak rate, and you readily see the problem. Closing WVAW’s single intake cuts off the only way to introduce new water into the system. With customers continuing to use water, either for private use or for fire emergencies, water would be leaving the system and WVAW employees would have to be racing around to 179 different locations to maintain pressure.
Ms. Molenda notes, in her article, that WVAW blames its customers for the failure of its water system:
West Virginia American Water officials repeatedly defended keeping the plant’s intakes open during and after the leak, citing the need to use water for flushing toilets and fire protection and describing a system that was short on water because of people leaving their taps dripping during the intense cold in January.