What’s the problem?
Ray Whitner, engineering field director for the Abingdon field office of the office of drinking water, said his office was first notified of the issue on Aug. 21. He said the advisory was put in place after a problem occurred at the town’s membrane-filtration plant, which uses water from “contaminated wells.”
“The plant has a self-test that tells the town that the plant is operating correctly,” Whitner said, “and the plant was failing that test.”
In addition to the problem at the filtration plant, Whitner said one of the well pumps failed, allowing the water from that well to pump directly into the system without going through the treatment plant. This led to a low water level in the tank, which prompted the town to issue a conservation notice in addition to the boil water advisory.
What’s happening now?
Last week, experts from the plant’s manufacturer came to Nickelsville to troubleshoot the plant. Engineers worked on the plant Tuesday through Saturday, replacing or repairing many of the parts, but Whitner said the plant still did not pass its self-test.
At that point, Whitner said the manufacturer recommended that the plant’s 12 membranes, which filter the water, should be replaced. On Monday morning, Nickelsville Mayor Rebecca Bryant said she would order the membranes, but Whitner said he is unsure when they will arrive and how long it will take to install them.
“That’s a very manual, labor-intensive process,” Whitner said. “When they get those installed, then we’ll see if the plant will pass the self-test. Once the plant passes the self-test and we put water out into the system, we’ll test the water to verify it’s safe. Then the water advisory will be lifted.”
Whitner added that the water level in the tank has now reached an acceptable point after the well failure, but the conservation notice is still in effect.
What should residents do?
In the meantime, town officials have advised residents to boil their water before use as a precautionary measure.
Before using the water for cooking, drinking or brushing teeth, Whitner said it should be left at a rolling boil for at least 30 seconds to kill or deactivate any pathogens that might be present. The water is acceptable for bathing, he said.
Residents also have the option of using bottled water for these tasks, Whitner said.