There are a lot of steps involved to solve a systemwide boil water advisory — and the most important key of all is patience.
Dana Whitis, water and wastewater manager for the City of Somerset, informed the Commonwealth Journal Wednesday on what all her department has had to do following the incident Tuesday that resulted in a boil water advisory affecting customers of Somerset Water Service, Southeastern Water, Western Pulaski Water, Science Hill Water and Eubank Water.
As Whitis explained it, there is essentially a four-step process in play. First, fix the leak.
In this case, the leak was caused by a contractor working on a 16-inch transmission line owned by the City of Somerset coming from the water plant, said Whitis. This took place around 11 a.m. Tuesday, at the intersection of Ky. 914 and U.S. 27 on the south end of town.
"We have two transmission water lines leaving from the plant to serve the customers," said Whitis. "We only had one working because that one got hit."
Then things got worse, because during the repair process, some muddy water got into the system, noted Whitis. This resulted in the need to issue a systemwide boil water advisory.
Customers are advised to bring all drinking or cooking water to a rolling boil for about three minutes.
After fixing the leak, the next step is to flush all the hydrants in the system. This has taken longer than normal because of the scope of the advisory, said Whitis.
"If it was a normal six-inch line, for example, we would find the valves and shut them down to isolate the area," said Whitis. "Once the water line gets fixed, we flush the hydrants, take samples, and issue an advisory. Once the samples come back, we lift the advisory."
But this wasn't a normal situation because of the systemwide nature of the problem. Instead of just one or a handful, there were several hundred hydrants to flush, a task that kept crews busy all throughout the night into Wednesday.
"It was a bigger area we had to flush," said Whitis.
The third step is to test the samples. That can't be done until all the hydrants are flushed.
Whitis said they took 30 samples; again, a more normal situation usually necessitates taking only one.
"As soon as we get those samples back, then I will notify the public by radio, social media, and Code Red (that the advisory is lifted)," said Whitis.
The hope is that the advisory will be lifted by the end of this week, but it takes time to test the samples and get them back, noted Whitis.
But when it's time to lift the advisory, the city can't do it themselves. The city must call the Kentucky Division of Water to issue the advisory, and once the samples are taken, the state agency must be the one to lift the advisory.
"We have to wait for the Division of Water (to do so)," said Whitis.
This is the first time the area has experienced a systemwide boil water advisory since 2012.
"It's a lot to do," said Whitis.
She apologized for the inconvenience and pledged to make the public aware that the advisory is lifted as soon as the results are returned and the state gives the go-ahead.