Wait for public water continues
Residents, business owners and developers who have been waiting since 2005 to tap onto the public water system in Berkeley Springs will have to wait at least another six months to get the public service, said state officials last week.
More than five years ago, the Public Service Commission (PSC) agreed that the Berkeley Springs Water Works should stop adding new water customers until the utility got its leaks under control.
At the time of the 2005 decision, the town was losing more than 50% of its treated water because old pipes in the ground were leaking all over town.
As part of the moratorium, the Water Works was required to keep a list of customers wanting a new water tap.
As of last week, that list included 400 requests for new taps.
The water utility has 1,760 customers both inside the town limits and out.
New pipes = fewer leaks
Just a few months ago, contractors completed the latest water pipe replacement project in downtown Berkeley Springs, upgrading 86,000 feet --more than 16 miles -- of public water mains and distribution pipes.
When the pipe project ended in December, town officials wrote to the state, asking them to lift the moratorium on new taps. To support the request, town officials cited reduced leak rates and recent improvements in the water system.
Bath Mayor Susan Webster got her answer to the request last week, when PSC officials recommended the ban stay in effect for at least another six months.
In that time, they advised the water system to gather more data about water usage and leak rates.
“The latest quarterly, unaccounted water loss (27%) is a great improvement over the historical level of losses experienced by this system,” the PSC letter said.
The state said the reduced leakage rate and plant operating time “shows that the Town is making progress in getting their water losses under control.”
Watch & wait
But because the new pipes have only been in the ground for a month, state officials said they didn’t have enough data to judge if town water leaks have been permanently brought under control.
Without that assurance, the PSC would not allow new customers to be added to the town water system.
The Water Works must now collect six months worth of water treatment, pumping and billing data and send that to the state for review.
Ultimately, the PSC wants to see the Water Works leak rate closer to 15%, said Chief Water Operator Terry Largent at the February 3 council meeting.
“They want us to wait two full billing cycles to get an accurate picture of what’s going on before we ask again,” Largent told council.
He and several council members have already expressed their feelings that there is no rush to lift the moratorium before they know how the new water pipes will affect other parts of the water system.
After the last pipe project, Largent said leaks sprang up in older main lines because of increased water pressure.
The halt on new water taps went into effect in 2005, during one of the most active building periods in Morgan County.
It meant that someone planning to build a new home on a lot without a well suddenly had to make new plans – either to drill a well, if possible, or put off their home plans.
The ban has indeed had an effect on building projects, said Kesecker Realty president Mike Pearse.
“A number of new developments were put on hold, which halted construction efforts and ultimately all the ancillary services and jobs that would have supported that effort,” he said last week.
“The biggest impact on the real estate market, though, has been the economy,” he said.
“Unfortunately, in the current market, public water availability will probably not have much of an effect for another year,” Pearse said.
Mayor Susan Webster expressed disappointment that the ban is still in place, but said the matter can’t be decided by town officials or the local water department.
“It’s not in our power to lift the moratorium,” she said Monday.