Water leaks at U.S. Silica force partial shutoffs to protect public system

by Trish Rudder

A leaking private water line on U.S. Silica property has prompted Berkeley Springs officials to partially cut off public water supply to the line. The leak has also caused a Boil Water advisory for other entities on the line, including the Berkeley Springs Senior Center.

At the February 5 Town of Bath council meeting, Councilman Chris Chapman, who heads up the water committee, said the Berkeley Springs Water Works (BSWW), the town-owned water department, reported that U.S. Silica has a water leak in its private line and was causing the plant to run 24 hours a day.

For 30 days from February 5, the water to U.S. Silica will be available from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. only and will be shut off each night, Chapman said.

“U.S. Silica has to decide to repair or replace the line,” he said.

BSWW chief water operator, Ron Jainniney said on Monday that that one leak caused a water loss of 125 gallons of water per minute.

He said the water plant has been running 24 hours a day. That can compromise the system. Jainniney said his biggest concern was a possible water line break on the public line and/or a fire that could overburden the system with excessive water use.

Tammy Kees, the acting director at the Senior Life Services of Morgan County, said the leak has affected the Senior Center. The center is on U.S. Silica property. Kees said on Monday that the initial leak was repaired and a second leak was found and both were repaired on Friday. A third leak close to the Senior Center was found and was to be repaired on Monday.

She said the water department told her the water supply could be contaminated by the line breaks and repairs. Water has to be boiled for one minute before using, which they have been doing at the center.

Kees said they have bottled water there and have been using that for drinking and making coffee, etc.

“We have pursued drilling our own well,” Kees said. That would avoid another water line problem.

Jainniney said that U.S. Silica’s water line starts near the public sewer plant. It is not a public line but uses water from the Berkeley Springs Water Works. He said the water line can be turned off per the state Public Service Commission’s (PSC) regulations.

Chapman said the town attorney, Richard Gay and U.S. Silica’s attorney have been involved as well as the Morgan County Commissioners and Del. Daryl Cowles, who also heads up the Morgan County Economic Development Authority.

Mayor Scott Merki said the town has worked hard “to get our water leaks under control with replacing the lines.”

Merki said when he joined the council in 2007, 70 percent of the public lines were leaking.

Chapman said Morgan County is the second lowest in the state for water loss.

Merki said that initial leak was in a swamp area and had been leaking since last October.

Town finance chair, Councilman Andy Swaim, said since the Senior Center was on the line, “that is why we delayed shutting them off.”

“We have to protect our citizens,” Merki said. “[W]e had to turn it off.” He said the line is more than 20 years old and the break is getting bigger.

“We can’t run the plant 24/7,” Merki said.