Scary moments for local water supply during recent ice storm

A main transmission line outage at the Upper Creek Water Filtration Plant during the recent winter weather resulted in a scare of a water shortage for some customers.
The main transmission line outage, which affected pumping water to various municipalities and customers, has resulted in action being  taken at the state level to obtain funding for a generator in order to have a back-up plan in case of future incidents.
Falling trees and limbs during icy and snowy weather conditions caused the transmission line to go out two to three times, officials said.  This meant Upper Bear Creek officials had to rent a generator, which was obtained within a 12-hour period, according to an Upper Bear Creek Board member who spoke to the Alabamian on the condition of anonymity.
A generator is not kept at the Upper Bear Creek plant on a regular basis, but can be obtained when needed, officials said.  The cost of renting the generator ranges from $5,000-$10,000, based on if the unit is used, how long it is used, etc., the board member said.
The generator was not needed during this instance because power was restored, authorities said.
“You pay so much to have it delivered and if you use it, it will cost you more,” the board member stated.  
However, questions arose from the City of Haleyville as to why the Upper Creek plant did not already have a generator on hand, since winter weather had been forecasted at least a week prior.  
Efforts are also being utilized at the state level for a grant or some outside funding source that could provide Upper Bear Creek with a generator to have on hand in case future incidents of this nature arise.
The cost of purchasing a generator could cost Upper Creek at least $500,000, which would have to be passed on to their customers to make up the cost, according to the board member.
“What we’re trying to do is provide the lowest cost, best water  to our customers,” the board member stated.
Upper Bear Creek checked around at the time of the outages and found the closest available generator to rent was in Madison County, officials said.
“We don’t have money put back to purchase  a huge generator, one that size, to handle that load,” the board member stated.
This is not like a generator a homeowner could buy to have as back up. The type of generator needed is one large enough to supply power so water can be pulled through the line to provide to customers in multiple areas.
When asked if it would not be more feasible to have a generator on hand in case of a future outage of this magnitude, the board member responded, “Would it be cost efficient to do that? I would think so, as long as you can rent one and get it here.
“It was not like anyone was without water,” the board member said. “Nobody lost their water.
“Anything can happen at anytime,” the board member stated. “You want to be prepared for it.”
However, the need of such an expensive generator does not arise that often, only in extreme weather situations. Officials estimate the magnitude of the recent ice event may not occur but once every decade, if that.
“We can buy a generator,  and we up everybody’s water bill from $1.70 (per thousand gallons)  to $2.50 to pay for it,” the board member pointed out. “If you want to pay more for your water and (the board) spend your money to buy a generator, we can do that.
“Renting a generator for $10,000, we can absorb that, and it doesn’t make your water cost go up,” the board member continued.
The money that comes in from customers’ water bills goes toward maintenance and upkeep of the Upper Bear Creek facility, the board member explained.
“If you don’t use (the generator), what’s going to happen to it?” the board member asked. “You are going to pay for something that may not work when you need it.
Although none of the customers from the Upper Bear Creek plant were short any water during the incident, the issue caused a scare when a message posted on social media noted that Haleyville could possibly  have a water shortage, officials said.
Upper Bear Creek provides water to Haleyville, Bear Creek and Phil Campbell.  Haleyville, in turn, sells water to the Town of Lynn, about eight million  gallons per month. Lynn turns around and sells to Nauvoo four million gallons a month, according to Lynn Town Clerk Marcia Manasco.
The Town of Lynn posted on social media when  the main transmission line was out at Upper Bear Creek. Electricity is crucial in order to be able to run the water through the line to customers, officials said.
“They told us with the situation that was going on that there was a possibility we could be without water,” Manasco pointed out.
“Everything worked out. I don’t think any of our citizens were ever without water because of that,” she said.
“We let Nauvoo know it could be a possibility,” said Manasco said. “Nauvoo pulls their water from Lynn.  They fill their large storage tanks.  We told them if their tanks were at a good level, they might have to stop pulling for a while,” Manasco said.
Once residents read the social media message regarding the possibility of losing water service, some residents went into panic mode, filling up bath tubs, pots and pans, just in case of a water shortage, Manasco explained.
“We were told to conserve and be careful,” Manasco noted. “Bear Creek didn’t know what was going to happen because they were not able to pump water quick enough to get it down to Lynn.”
The Upper Bear Creek board member stressed there was never a shortage of water when the transmission line was affected by a lack of electricity.
“There really wasn’t a problem with service. It was just a scare,” the board member stated. “There was no strain on the system.”
Drew Thrasher, superintendent of the wastewater department of the Haleyville Water Works, noted a system is in place that every time the power blinks, employees are out checking the status of water pumps.
“We were basically 24/7,” Thrasher said.
Haleyville Mayor Ken Sunseri pointed out he would rather see an additional cost than risk being without a generator that helps provide the flow of water--a necessity.
“The ideal situation would be to have a generator on site,” Sunseri pointed out. “How often do we need the generator?  We don’t know. We don’t know what the weather is going to be like.”
There is a dual electrical feed to supply both local power substations, but both of those feeds come off the same transmission line, Sunseri stated.
“The main transmission line went down three times,” he noted.
Sunseri commended Alabama Power for doing a “super job” sending out multiple crews for power restoration during the winter weather.
However, the issue involving Upper Bear Creek was that municipalities had knowledge of pending winter weather a week before it occurred, Sunseri said.
“We could have gotten a generator on Sunday and had it sitting there. Instead, on Wednesday, the generator finally got there,” Sunseri said. “I am not really happy about that.”


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