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Wet winter filling up Wise County reservoirs

Stephen Igo • Feb 2, 2008 at 12:00 AM

The latest rains, with more predicted for the start of next week, continue to soothe water woes for Wise County municipalities on water restrictions since November.

A good soaking that began Thursday night and continued into Friday brought more welcome news for Big Stone Gap’s Big Cherry Reservoir.

“We got a little over an inch and a quarter of rain last night and today. And they’re predicting we’ll get more rain Monday and Tuesday, so hopefully that can keep us shooting for the top (of the reservoir’s spillway),” Big Stone Gap Water Plant Supervisor Gary Hampton said Friday.

Hampton said the level of the Big Cherry was still 8 feet below the spillway as of 1:30 p.m. Friday, translating into 334 million gallons — a 118-day supply. The Big Cherry’s dam, dedicated in 2005, contains 600 million gallons when full.

Appalachia is back to depending on nature to keep its reservoir reasonably wet for the time being. The town has been pumping water from the Powell River to bolster water levels in its reservoir.

Appalachia Water Plant Superintendent Jackie Pitts said temperatures that flirted with zero on the Fahrenheit scale wreaked havoc with the pipeline and one of the pumps feeding the reservoir from the river about 10 days ago.

“We still have sections of pipe full of ice. It shattered several joints. On Monday we’ll start to get it pushed out and get it put back together and get it started back up as soon as we can,” Pitts said. “It will probably take us several days, but maybe we can have things back up and running by the middle to the end of the week anyhow.”

Appalachia’s reservoir was an inch shy of 15 feet below the spillway on Friday, a loss of about a foot since the deep freeze on Nov. 20-21 literally iced up the river tap system. The reservoir’s lowest level since the town’s water emergency restrictions have been in effect is 17 feet 6 inches below the spillway.

Pitts said the reservoir contained a 62-day supply on Friday, and the water plant’s rain gauge recorded close to an inch of rainfall by Friday morning.

“We’re expecting more on Monday and Tuesday, so that might help us a bit more right there, too,” he said.

The city of Norton’s twin reservoirs are in much better shape thanks to wet weather that kicked into business in December. Assistant City Manager Fred Ramey on Friday said the total supply in both reservoirs was at 73 million gallons at midweek.

The city’s upper and lower reservoirs on the flank of High Knob Mountain contain a combined 124 million gallons when full. The combined volume of the reservoirs got down to about 40 million gallons when things were getting dicey by November.

The city had been buying 500,000 gallons daily from the Wise County Public Service Authority to maintain its supply situation but began cutting back on those purchases by early January. Ramey said purchases of PSA water have been “cut back quite a bit” in recent weeks.

“These kinds of rains really do well,” Ramey said of the area’s most recent bout of wet weather. “Hopefully, we’re in for a lot more and we’ve turned the corner.”

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