PRINCE GEORGE – Nearly two months into ongoing water restrictions, residents living in the Jordan on the James subdivision filed into the county boardroom Monday for a meeting where they hoped to get updates and answers as to when life would return to normal and they would be able to resume normal water usage.

According to county utilities director Frank Haltom, this week’s meeting was requested by Jordan on the James’ homeowner’s association as a way to inform members of the community about the status of repairs at the Beechwood Manor reservoir, which suffered significant damage during a severe thunderstorm in May, sending a tree through the aging roof of a water storage building.

The meeting eventually evolved into a special called meeting as more than three county supervisors were expected to be on hand for an update as to where the county is in regards to repairing and bringing the system back online, allowing for a reduction or discontinuation of water restrictions.

In previous updates, Haltom said the Jordan on the James, Eagle Preserve, and Beechwood Manor water systems had been under water restrictions since mid-April as the county performed maintenance at the reservoir. Those restrictions were slated to end in mid-May but, a tree collapsed across the mid-section of the wood-frame roof, causing significant damage.

Those ongoing restrictions prohibit “sprinkling, watering or irrigation of new and established lawns,” washing cars, including commercial vehicles, and “the outdoor surfaces of all buildings and structures, sidewalks, and driveways,” and “filling or cleaning … swimming, wading pools, and decorative fountains.” Violators risk a $100 fine and “in a case of a continuing violation, each day’s continuance thereof shall be deemed a separate and distinct offense with fines escalating.”

During the May 28 board meeting, Haltom told supervisors it is apparent some are not adhering to the ongoing restrictions as the one well that is serving over 400 homes in that area is “operating almost 20 hours a day,” putting those homes at risk of completely losing water if that pump were to fail.

“We only have one well serving approximately 1,000 people or roughly 430 connections,” Haltom said. “We still have folks who are ignoring water restrictions, pushing that well pump to its capacity and I just want people to be aware that, if that well goes, there will be no water to those 1,000 people, those 430 homes.”

In his office during an interview last week as he prepared for Monday’s meeting, Haltom said they are still seeing increased uses from some water system users – all involving irrigation, which is currently prohibited in the three areas due to the water restrictions.

“Irrigation is the issue,” he remarked. “Some people are washing cars and their neighbors have told us that but we have caught many people irrigating.”

According to Haltom, based on their patrols and analysis of the pump’s data, there have been “at least 15 occurrences” of irrigation, with some of those being repeat offenders involving nearly a dozen homes.

With that continued usage, he reiterated the warning he made in May – if that pump were to fail due to it having to run nearly 24 hours a day to service these communities, all three neighborhoods could lose water for several days until a new pump could be found and installed.

“If we lose that pump for whatever reason, even if it isn’t irrigation, we want to have some sort of solution to that,” Haltom said. “We are working with other vendors to provide a pump that we can quickly install, but that is, at least, a two to three-day turnaround. Anytime you pull a pump, you have to re-sanitize it and get samples before you can send it back out into the system, and that typically takes about three days.”

He continued, “Could it be longer? It all depends on the lead time of getting the pump. We have to find someone who has the exact kind of pump we have, which meets the same production requirements against a certain head requirement to pump into our system. Sometimes, that is not easy to find.”

“We don’t keep them on the shelf here because pumps do go bad sitting on the shelf,” Haltom noted.

When the system is operating normally, Beechwood Manor provides roughly 90,000 gallons of water volume while Jordan on the James’ system is smaller, providing 60,000 for a total of 150,000 gallons that serves water customers in that area. With Beechwood offline, that area “is down to 61,000 gallons,” Haltom explained. As a result, county utility officials are working to devise a solution to bring back some capacity to possibly reduce the level of ongoing restrictions.

In May, Haltom said he was in the process of reaching out to Rain for Rent, a company who specializes in “temporary liquid handling solutions,” such as pumps, tanks, and other systems to see if they can provide some temporary water storage to “add onto the water [the county] already has at Jordan on the James.” Last week, Haltom gave an update on where the county was in their efforts to get some form of temporary water capacity.

“The original scenario was to provide some additional storage to allow people to use more water and, therefore, reduce some of the restrictions but, the health department didn’t like that idea because it still taxed the existing well – the only well – too much,” he detailed, adding they had planned to put tanks at Jordan on the James for that storage but, “that was not going to be the solution that the health department would recommend.”

Haltom continued, “They are recommending that we protect the pump, that main source of drinking water. So if we implement their plan, which would help sustain that well pump, that temporary tank would go to Beechwood Manor and allow the well pump there to fill that tank and then help send some water into the distribution system that way.”

As contractors work to construct the new metal roof for the water storage building at Beechwood Manor, Haltom said one of the questions he has fielded often from those living in the affected areas is why some form of a temporary roof can’t be installed on the building to get it back up and running faster.

“That is something we are continuing to work out with the health department,” he said. “A temporary roof has to be sustainable for a certain amount of time to make sure that nothing can get in and contaminate the water so, how we seal it off is the biggest issue. We are working with the contractor now to see if it is still a possibility to put a temporary roof on, and then put the new roof on top of it without having to shut down the water again.”

He stressed that the idea remains in its conceptual stages and he is awaiting information and approval from the health department.

“The health department would have to buy off on that,” Haltom remarked.

He added, the timetable remains in the 5-7 week range of getting the water system back in normal working condition but, as he continues to gather more information, that could result in a slight decrease in that range as some tasks could be done at the same time as others, further streamlining the process.

“We are working toward getting the roof fabricated, that is moving forward,” Haltom remarked. “The rest of it is what can we do in the interim while we are waiting for it to be fabricated,” such as looking at the possibility of doing the painting and sealing of the structure while waiting for the roof to be done, which can take roughly 11 days, through the use of a temporary roof.

“We can use that temporary roof or tarp to at least get that work done while the real roof is being fabricated off-site,” he detailed, noting that process alone could save “about two weeks” of the time to bring the system back online.

Following the May storm damage and the extension of water restrictions, some in the community felt the utility department wasn’t moving fast enough to get the system back up and running to end the usage limitations the three communities were under but, Haltom said there was a process they had to follow in regards to the circumstances.

“In the midst of all of this, we have been trying to follow proper guidelines in regards to repairing this thing,” he said. “First thing we had to do is meet with the insurance adjuster so they can come out and do their inspection so don’t contaminate it and risk what the county could get back in return for the damage so, that took about three days to occur. Then we had several people come out and look at the roof for demolition, removal, and fence repair, with all of those needing to occur pretty quickly within the first week or two.”

He continued, “After that, we started working individually on which way we wanted to go with this roof. The first thing we had to do is meet with the board to get approval to improve the roof rather than a spot repair. There was some consideration time there to make sure we were on the right path so we wanted to get in front of the board and ask for an improvement, not just a standard repair that would not work long-term.”

According to Haltom, his department had planned to add a roof replacement at the Beechwood Manor water storage building to their capital improvement plan “in the next two to three years.”

As repairs continue, the utilities director reiterated his office’s continued efforts to resolve the issue as quickly and safely as possible to bring an end to restrictions for those over 400 customers.

“Give us a call, we can see what we can do to help,” Haltom said. “We understand the frustration of not being able to get back to normal life with normal water use but, if there is anything we can do in the meantime, we will. We want to help educate people on what the risks are and we don’t want to be the ones coming out and slapping people on the wrist but, if it is necessary, we will so we can protect the greater community and not just one person’s needs.”

To that end, when asked about the message to those who continue to irrigate and carry out tasks in violation of the water restriction in the three communities, Haltom said, “You’re continuing to put the community at severe risk of being without drinking water.”

The county will alert those affected once repairs are complete and restrictions are lifted. Those with questions are asked to contact the county’s utilities department director Frank Haltom at 804-722-8688 or fhaltom@princegeorgeva.gov.

By: Michael Campbell
Twitter: @itsthesoup

Copyright 2019 by Womack Publishing