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City battling widespread water leaks

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Anthony Waiters, an employee with the city’s water and sewer department, tightens the clamps on a water line during repair work near the intersection of Crescent and Penny drives in Elizabeth City, Wednesday afternoon. City Manager Rich Olson said the city's water shortage because of broken pipes "continues to be bad," as the city is losing more water than it's producing.

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By Jon Hawley
Staff Writer

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Elizabeth City struggled to produce more water than it lost on Wednesday, as city public works crews continued battling widespread water leaks due to recent weeks of bitter cold.

Local plumbers also continued to be busy responding to the leaks, including at one church flooded with water because of broken pipes.

“It continues to be bad,” City Manager Rich Olson said Wednesday, reporting later that city crews canvassed some 2,000 structures and found 31 leaks. The city has also gotten more than 100 requests to shut off water service, he reported. The city also was able to build up 507,000 gallons of capacity across its three water storage tanks.

Still, Olson reported earlier in the day that the city has lost almost 46,000 gallons of water capacity in the last 24 hours and continued buying a lot of water from Pasquotank County to offset the losses.

Olson said there are widespread leaks at residential properties, where service connections often freeze and force the homeowners to have water shut off until they can get the leaks repaired. Many affected properties are fortunately vacant, he said.

But residences aren't the only properties affected. Olson reported line breaks at College of The Albemarle, a vacant dorm at Elizabeth City State University, and various downtown sites.

Asked about the water line break at COA, college spokeswoman Amy Alcocer said it affected the Foreman Center, but didn't force the building to close or disrupt any schedules. The leak should be fixed by Thursday, she said.

Olson also reported the former Hurdle Hardware building was flooded.

Olson said it's too soon to say when the city's water losses will fall back to manageable levels, or how much the water leaks have cost the city in wasted water, water purchases from the county, and overtime pay for city employees.

Pasquotank County Manager Rodney Bunch said the county isn't seeing major water problems outside of the city. Bunch said he's glad the county's water system is in strong enough shape to cover this spike in the city's need.

“I know we're supplying them all they can take,” Bunch said.

He also said the county is supplying water from its Weeksville plant, which treats water in a process compatible with older pipes.

The weather-related leaks are keeping local plumbers very busy.

“I've been in business 15 years, and this is the worst freeze we've ever had by a long shot,” said Donnie Denny, owner of Standard Plumbing and Emergency Drain Cleaning and Plumbing.

Denny said his company started 2018 getting roughly double the normal number of calls, totaling maybe 190 as of midday Wednesday.

Denny also reported that the Tabernacle of Faith homeless shelter on South Road Street and Christ Episcopal Church on McMorrine Street saw line breaks as well. Officials at the homeless shelter couldn't be reached for comment. Christ Episcopal Pastor Chip Broadfoot said the line break fortunately didn't flood the church.

Bailey Jackson, of Bailey's Plumbing Repair, said he's been “slammed” with business as well over the last two weeks, and is often working late into the evening. The last few weeks brought extreme cold that people didn't always prepare well for, he said.

For example, he said residents forgot to shut vents around the base of their homes and to remove water hoses from faucets. He also noted that leaving faucets running only goes so far and, contrary to what one might expect, hot water freezes faster than cold water.

Another place hit hard by a line break was Elizabeth City First Church of the Nazarene, where Pastor Kris Adams said a pipe — insulated, no less — burst in the church's attic and flooded most of the sanctuary. He opened the doors on Tuesday ahead of a scheduled Bible study only for several inches of water to come gushing out. A few classrooms and the elevated fellowship hall were the only areas not affected, he said.

Adams said contractors have already pulled up ruined carpet and the church could place its pews back in the sanctuary to hold service. That should work, but it'll create an “odd aesthetic” to say the least, he said.

Adams also said the church was fortunate to have a good insurance policy. Much of the repair costs should be covered, though the church will have to pay to replace some furniture.

Contractors have told Adams the damage to the Church of the Nazarene could be repaired in as little as two weeks.

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