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Berkeley County learned much from Potomac spill

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — The Berkeley County Public Service Water District is measuring its response to the Potomac River spill as a success with virtually no disruption to customers after shutting down its Potomac River intake for six days.

From midday Friday Oct. 2 to late Wednesday Oct 7, the district’s Potomac River intake in Falling Waters was shutdown to allow a chemical plume of synthetic latex to pass the plant.

“The Maryland Department of the Environment took samples of the plume and the results came back that it did not show detection for styrene,” said BCPSWD executive director Christine Thiel.

“That information came kind of late in the game, and we had already made a commitment to turn off our intake. The other piece of that too is we weren’t really sure what this particular compound was going to do to our membrane from a cleaning point,” she said.

Greg Rhoe, president of the water district’s board of directors, said he felt closing the intake was the right decision and praised employees’ quick response and hard work during the six days.

The intake was turned on after the district received results from a water sample employees collected from the river near the plant on Oct. 6 that tested negative for styrene.

The district received models of the plume’s concentration and location from the Interstate Commission on the Potomac River Basin to help plan its response to the spill. Thiel described the models as an “important piece of information” that allowed the district to evaluate its options and response.

To compensate for the water deficit created by turning off the intake, the district ran its Bunker Hill plant and three wells at its Potomac Station 24 hours a day. It was during this period that the district discovered that the wells were not performing as anticipated.

“Those wells weren’t able to keep up though. In addition, we discovered the wells weren’t producing as well as we thought they would be producing. We were getting around 1,300 gallons per minute when we were expecting at least 1,600 gallons per minute. And, initially when the wells were put online, we were closer to 1,900 gallons per minute,” Thiel said.

Despite running additional water sources for 24 hours, the water district still had a water deficit and purchased water from the City of Martinsburg on Tuesday after water tank levels were becoming depleted.

With aspects of the district’s plan that performed well and other that did not, the event proved a good learning experience, Thiel said.

“The bottom line with this is, even though it wasn’t an overwhelming public health concern, it certainly was a very good opportunity for us to try some things with our system, push some limits and try different ways of servicing customers. So, it was a very good opportunity for us to work together as a team. We learned a lot from it,” she said.

The event occurred while the district is in the process of updating its sourcewater protection plan as mandated by Senate Bill 373, which includes an emergency response plan.

On Sept. 23, 10,000 gallons of synthetic latex used for paper coating at the Verso paper mill spilled into the North Branch of the Potomac River in Luke, Maryland, over a four-hour period after off-loading from a rail car. The spill was discharged through their collection system to the Upper Potomac River Commission plant.

-Staff writer Samantha Cronk can be reached at 304-263-8931, ext. 132, or twitter.com/scronkJN.

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