Wellsburg residents seek answers to water problems
Jul 27, 2023
Aug 31, 2023
WELLSBURG — Several residents came to the city’s water-sewer board meeting Wednesday with complaints about their water and were asked to help local officials in soliciting funds for improvements.
Resident Chrissy Kaylor said her water has ranged from runny brown to milky white in appearance, sometimes smelling like bleach and sometimes like sewage.
She said others have voiced similar complaints but couldn’t make it to the meeting because it started at 5 p.m.
“We want to know what you’re planning to do to fix the problem,” said Kaylor.
She said she and others have endured city streets being torn up and water service being disrupted as crews worked to replace water lines.
Kaylor said she and other residents also have paid higher water rates in recent years “but we’ve not gotten a better product.”
City Manager Steve Maguschak said replacement of water lines along Main, Charles and Commerce streets from Second to 12th streets is just the first of many steps needed to improve the city’s water treatment system.
He said discolored water often is the result of a buildup of material in the lines and while flushing them is one answer, it won’t remedy the deposits found in the city’s ductile iron pipe.
Such lines have a life expectancy of no more than 80 years, and much of the city’s are 100 years old, he said.
Prior to the meeting, Maguschak said a line replaced at 27th Street was so old, crews found remnants of trolley track near it.
He said the intention is to replace all of the old lines, but the cost for that has been estimated at $26 million.
Maguschak said at a meeting with federal and state representatives arranged by Brooke County Commissioner A.J. Thomas, he and other city officials were told that level of funding isn’t available but the city could pursue up to $9 million for smaller projects.
The city manager said he’s proposed lobbying for money to replace water line along Charles Street from 12th to 30th streets, which is considered to be in the worst condition, followed by other areas of the city.
Maguschak noted a top priority for the city is raising well heads leading to four wells, 75 feet underground, that supply the city with water.
He said the well heads sit below the floodplain and would be inundated if the city were flooded again.
Maguschak said residents may find an odor of chlorine after service has been disrupted by a line break and the production of treated water has resumed because the chemical hasn’t fully dissipated in the lines.
He and Rick Stewart, the city’s water superintendent, said water can appear white because there was air in the lines but it should clear up in a short amount of time.
Mayor Dan Dudley said residents may ask for city crews to test their water.
Maguschak noted water is routinely tested after a line has been repaired.
He acknowledged water discoloration also occurred after a local industry tested a malfunctioning sprinkler system without notifying the city.
Maguschak and 3rd Ward Councilman Randy Fletcher, who chairs the water-sewer board, said the state fire marshal’s office has assisted the business in setting up a new system and a new ordinance establishes that an entity may be fined $500 for failing to notify the city of such a situation.
Kaylor also asked if there have been issues with the city’s newer radio-read water meters, adding a resident recently received a $4,000 bill.
Maguschak said there was an incident in which the system by which the readings are transmitted to the city had to be reset, but city crews can get an accurate reading from the meters themselves.
He cautioned that a higher than normal bill can indicate there’s a leak in the line to the customer’s home, as he found at his own home.
“Any time you have a question, call here and we’ll send a guy up,” Maguschak said while adding city crews often are busy and may not respond immediately.
Fletcher said customers seeking information about their accounts should ask for the water department’s secretary.
The department can be reached at City Hall at (304) 737-2104.
It also was noted that an automated call system is used to alert customers of disruptions in service, but they must ask to be included.
City officials thanked residents attending the meeting for their civil discourse during the meeting, saying discussion of the topic on social media often has become heated.
Maguschak said an effort will be made to better inform the public about the city’s situation.
And Dudley asked their help in lobbying state and federal officials for funding for future water projects.
“I still feel there’s a few strings they could pull,” he said.
Maguschak introduced Ben Erste, community planning specialist for the Brooke-Hancock-Jefferson Metropolitan Planning Commission, who has aided the city in pursuing state and federal funds.
Erste said state and federal agencies consider the median household income for the communities that will be served by a project and their present water or sewer rates.
Wellsburg Council and the water-sewer board agreed to raise the base water rate from $6.20 per 1,000 gallons to $6.94 per 1,000 gallons in 2020 and to $8.68 per 1,000 gallons starting this month.
Resident Kathy Hess said the increases are a burden to many residents.
“There are a lot of Wellsburg residents who are older and can’t afford it,” she said.
The water-sewer board normally meets at 5 p.m. on the third Wednesday of each month.
Residents were advised if they can’t make the meetings, they may bring questions to council, which meets at 7 p.m. on the second Tuesday of each month, or to the city manager personally.
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