For Randolph County, the historic Christmas freeze is over, but the effects continue to linger. The biggest concern as the county thaws out is a significant number of residents still without water to their homes.
Broken pipes, pipes left dripping to prevent freezing and significant leaks throughout the county’s water supply systems left residents throughout the county without water beginning on Christmas Eve. And for some county residents it could get worse before it gets better later this week.
Roanoke has managed to steer clear of significant system-wide trouble, but Wadley, Wedowee, Woodland and the surrounding smaller communities fed by those towns’ water systems are still in the process of patching their networks back together.
In Wedowee, the R. L. Harris Reservoir, an Alabama Power lake, serves as a source of water for Wedowee Utilities. The water level is currently at a critical low and Alabama Power has only recently allowed more water to flow. The elevation above sea level is 793 feet, but the level was at 784.18 feet as of Tuesday morning.
Wedowee Mayor Tim Coe, who also serves as the chairman of Wedowee Utilities, said this means the utility is unable to pump water into the water treatment plant.
“It’s major,” Coe said. “There is a significant amount of people that are out of water right now.”
Coe said he had communication with Alabama Power about raising the water level, adding they have agreed to do so. As of Tuesday morning the expectation is that some communities in the northern end of Randolph County will remain without water service, but that full restoration of service is expected by Thursday or Friday at the latest.
Alabama Power issued a statement to 1819 News, saying, “The City of Wedowee Water intake elevation is 779. Harris elevation is currently at 784.21 They have told us that they have a silt issue and have trouble pumping when the level drops below 785. We will be back to full winter pool by December 31st. So it will be gradually rising to get there.”
Coe added typically the utility can purchase water from Randolph County, but the Randolph County Water Authority discovered a major leak Monday morning, adding to problems in the county. The Authority is asking customers to conserve water. In a recording, they said they are working to resolve the issue.
“We’ve had unprecedented cold for the last few days and the lake water is low,” Coe explained. “There are also a lot of lake houses with leaks that people don’t know about because they aren’t there. People leave their water running to prevent their pipes from busting and now that is water being used that we didn’t account for.”
According to Wedowee town councilmember Jerry Huddleston, Wedowee has taken the unprecedented step of sending workers to check each home on the lake to find out a) if it is unoccupied and b) if it has a water leak.
Coe said residents should check their homes and businesses for water leaks. He said some households that lost water services have already seen improvements, so he hopes that will soon be the case for all customers.
In Wadley the cumulative effect of a series of unconnected incidents led to some serious outages throughout the town and surrounding areas. The trouble began Thursday night when an uprooted tree pulled through a buried pipe near Southern Union and caused a major leak that went unnoticed and virtually drained the town’s water reserves, according to mayor Donna McKay.
That leak was quickly discovered and repaired Friday. But two pipes were discovered to have burst at the Plantation Patterns building in Wadley Sunday, causing another hit to the town’s water reserves. Then late Sunday one of the town’s main water feed pipes ruptured along Highway 22, causing widespread water service outages throughout Wadley.
According to McKay, Chad Hopkins, who heads Wadley’s utilities department, worked tirelessly to find and repair the leak and restore service to most customers by Monday evening.
McKay noted that some residents in higher elevation locations were still without service, as the water pressure needed to reach those homes was replenished. But the vast majority of Wadley residents already have their water back on.
As the news got better in Wadley, it got worse in Woodland. Outages started to hit the area hard around noon Tuesday. Mayor Scott Carter estimated that around half of the town’s 465 residential water customers were without service, with no immediate solution available to get them back up and running.
The shortage was heightened by two main leaks in Woodland – one at the school and one at the clinic. Those were repaired, and the hope was that those repairs would mitigate the shortage of water, but it hasn’t slowed down consumption enough to keep the water on everywhere.
“It’s bad everywhere,” Carter said. “And for some folks, the only water they’ve got is what’s in the pipe. It’s getting used faster than we can pump it.”
Woodland’s pumps send out 40 gallons per minute, but what has been used and is being used is exceeding that number. Making matters worse, Woodland’s backup source for water is Wedowee, which is also navigating widespread outages and has no water to spare.
Because of that, Woodland’s situation is tied closely to Wedowee’s. Once the level of Lake Wedowee rises and reserves are replenished, then Wedowee can get its customers back online, rebuild its reserves and potentially spare some water to get Woodland up and running again. That will hopefully begin to take affect sometime Thursday or Friday. Until then it’s a waiting game for a lot of the residents on the north end of the county.
“There’s nothing anybody can do except try to be sparing with their water use,” Carter said.