Salem Mayor Justin Green met with local media today at City Hall to make sure the residents using the city water knew that the boil water advisory had been lifted and he was working to correct the problems.
In fact, he and the Board of Works are so serious and regretful of the issues of late, they met this morning and voted to formulate a refund to the water bills of local residents and businesses as well as to put a 90-day stay on the water rate increase that was to have went into affect in February.
“This is not business as usual,” he said. “I want to offer some sincere apologies. We’ve had some hurdles and hiccups. The City of Salem, this crew, my crew in the field…this is not what we expect.”
Green, along with three employees of the Wessler Engineering company that is helping to operate the treatment plant, answered questioned and offered hope at correcting the issues.
“There has been some intermittent issues that we are going to bring up today. Some are tied together. Some are not,” said Green.
The new plant which came on-line last summer has had some growing pains, said Green. “I don’t stand for it. The Board of Works don’t stand for it. The City Council doesn’t stand for it. Your low pressure and outage is a serious issue to me. We have addressed it as quickly as we can.”
The boil water advisory was issued on Saturday, January 29 although some low-pressure issues were identified earlier in the week.
East Washington Rural Water Corporation and the Town of New Pekin, which both buy water from Salem, issued their own advisories on Saturday.
Dylan Lambermont of Wessler said there were several issues that dominoes together to create the issues that happened over the weekend, that resulted in a boil water advisory being issued on Saturday morning.
At least two main breaks happened on January 21 which helped drain about 4 million gallons of clean water being held in the city’s five water tower tanks.
“The breaks that haven’t been repaired are making the situation more difficult to rectify,” he said.
The additional main breaks and leaks causes low pressure issues as well as the need for those tanks to be replenished.
Volume was turned up at the plant, drawing more water from Lake John Hay, which recently had the water level increased.
“The process began last Friday. They tried to push more water to the system. That’s what they tried to do. Another thing happened that prevented that, then another thing happened that made them have to slow down the extra water they were putting in the system. We didn’t have the storage there to rely on to get the plant back in shape.
Lamberton said the sludge was not settling like it should.
“It took several days to figure out that the water quality appeared to have changed. The chemicals that were being dosed weren’t being dosed at the correct level,” he said.
Those issues were identified on Thursday or Friday of last week.
“By that time, things happened very quickly. We had to reset and clean the filters out and put out good quality water,” said Lamberton.
“We are going to go back to make sure the mayor understands – from an operational standpoint – that procedures in place to react to these things better,” he said.
Lamberton said they were focused on filling the tanks, putting out good water, and being prepared for cold weather.
Since there is an Ice Storm and impending winter storm hitting the area over the next 48 hours, filling the tanks will be important but could be limited.
Green asked residents to be careful with their usage.
“As the system does go back – if you can – certainly we would like some restrictive use,” he said. “Not asking people to stop using water. If you can conserve, it would help us – in the next few hours. If that’s allowable, please do your best on that.”
“With the boil water advisory lifted, people will want to use their water. Also, during cold weather, some people let their faucets drip overnight to keep their pipes from freezing. All that takes water from the system and limits the ability to fill the tanks,” said Lamberton.
Marty Wessler, CEO of the company, said he estimated the plant can treat 3 million gallons per day and the roughly 20,000 customers use about 1-2 millions gallons of water per day, which includes customers in Salem, Pekin and the East Washington Rural Water Corporation.
He said it could take six to eight days to fill all the reserve tanks, but would depend on the usage.
Even with the tanks full and the treatment plant in proper operation, the other variable is the aging water line system of the city.
Green said there were several miles of water line in a loop around the city.
“Updating the system is an ongoing challenge,” he said. “We have stages that have been upgraded. We’ve identified areas that need attention. We have been diligent to replace areas when there are grants available. We have been fortunate to receive Community Crossing grants on numerous occasions, which allows us that access. We have improved several sections of pipe. We’re not done.”
Lambert said although the two mains that broke on January 21 have been repaired, there are others out there that have not been repaired.
“It’s an aging system and we see this all over Indiana,” he noted.
Green said the Board of Works has been discussing additional needs and upgrades of the system.
“Those updates cost money,” said Green. “We are all cognizant of the cost of raw materials, building supplies and the increased demand for those materials. It costs money to make these things happen.”
Green said the rate increase that was to have went into affect in February for the contruction costs of the John Hay Treatment plant have been delayed.
“The board voted to suspend that rate increase for 90 days and then be revisited,” he said.
“Also, the board decided with the Clerk-Treasurer and Utility Office will formulate a credit back to your bill,” said Green. “That is forthcoming. We see the need for that. We appreciate your patience and apologize for the interruption for your daily lives.”
Green said that credit would apply to residents and businesses alike.
Tyler Graves of Wessler said Green had been a hands-on Mayor during this last week.
“We’ve all been here round the clock trying to figure this out,” said Graves. “I know he’s been there overnight right along with everyone else.”
Watch the meeting from this afternoon here on WSLM’s Facebook page – https://www.facebook.com/wslmradio/videos/1070351396867693