Extreme water loss continues; city weighs drastic measures
By Jon Hawley
Thursday, January 11, 2018
Elizabeth City still battled a legion of leaks on Thursday, leading city management to weigh drastic steps to avoid over-straining the city’s water system.
City Manager Rich Olson said widespread water leaks remain a problem, despite crews entering their third day of search-and-fix across the city.
In one bit of good news, Olson said the city continues to replenish its water storage tanks, which gained about 100,000 gallons from overnight Wednesday. As of 2 p.m. Thursday, the city's tanks held about 575,000 gallons of water, he said, reflecting some loss during the day.
But it remains clear that keeping up with water demand — and many still unaddressed leaks — is taking its toll on the city's water system. The storage tanks' capacity is 2 million gallons, and, at almost three-fourths empty, they could only cover four or five hours of current consumption and water loss, Olson estimated.
Olson also estimated the city is currently losing a million gallons of water a day, based on the city’s purchases and production of 2.8 million gallons of water a day to meet what's typically 1.8 million gallons' worth of demand.
Even after buying water from Pasquotank County, Olson said the city has had to draw down its raw water reservoir — which holds well water before it’s treated — to just 1.5 million gallons. The city could pump up more raw water, Olson said, but then it'd face the risk of causing a break in the city's one, and only, raw water transmission line. That would take matters from bad to worse, he suggested.
Though city crews continue finding and fixing leaks, Olson didn't rule out taking drastic steps in coming days, if the extreme water loss continues. The city has looked at bringing in water trucks to supplement production and might have to ask water-intensive businesses to temporarily shut down, he said.
City officials identified water loss as a major problem last year, but it's become a crisis after freezing temperatures recently caused more line breaks. The breaks have affected many private residences, churches, businesses and even Elizabeth City State University and College of The Albemarle.