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Portsmouth residents hit with multiple water issues

PORTSMOUTH, OH (WOWK) - Residents have experienced a wide range of water issues in Portsmouth over the last week, with some not having water at all. 

"Since last Friday, we've gone through no water, brown water, low pressure, and water boil advisories," said Portsmouth resident Jason Vandeusen. "It's weird how much you miss it when you don't have it."

The problems stem from a multi-million dollar project to replace the city's century-old main waterline, which began three weeks ago. The Sunrise Reservoir Water Main Replacement project has not directly caused the issues, but they have become a bi-product of it. 

The older low-pressure water system used in the low areas of the city hasn't been able to handle the changes needed for the project. As a result, there have been 14 water breaks from Friday through Wednesday, according to Scioto County Emergency Management. 

"That low-pressure system is 100 years old in most parts of the city," said Portsmouth Police Chief Robert Ware. "So any change in pressure or movement in the lines can cause a weak valve or a line to fracture."

A large portion of the city receives water through one of two pipe systems. The lower areas of Portsmouth are fed water through a low-pressure system, while the higher elevated areas (including the hilltop area) are fed water through a high-pressure system. Therefore, every time the low areas of the city experience water breaks, it takes water and pressure away from the higher system.

Normally, the city's 22-million gallon Sunrise water reservoir would just replace the water that was lost during water breaks, and residents wouldn't notice a difference. However, the city had to drain water from the reservoir to do the upgrade project. As a result, the reserve water wasn't there and many residents in the higher areas began experiencing water loss, a drop in water pressure, and sediment in their water.

"Contrary to some of the rumors out there, it's not the upgrade that caused the problem," said Chief Ware. "It's the fact we didn't have water in the storage that otherwise would've replaced the lost water."

Starting on Saturday, the Portsmouth Fire Department has had to begin emergency water supply operations to make sure the hospital, Southern Ohio Medical Center (SOMC), can still function properly. 

"The fire department, in conjunction with mutual aid from other fire departments, has maintained a flow of water via tanker trucks to keep SOMC operating and being able to provide emergency services to the community," said Chief Ware.

In order to fix the water issues, the city is asking residents to report any water that's not normal or any possible water breaks by calling the local water plant directly, at (740) 456-4946.

"If it's not raining and you're hearing water, we need to investigate that," said Chief Ware. 

The city is also asking all residents, even if they live in the lower areas and haven't been impacted, to conserve water so that water pressure can return to normal.

"Every little bit of water conservation that happens in the low-pressure system allows us to get that high-pressure system pressurized faster and get some water in the storage tank," said Chief Ware. "Don't use water to water your lawn, don't fill up pools, don't wash your cars - basic needs and take showers of short duration."

The city and Scioto County EMA are hoping to resolve the problem by the end of the week, but have prepared for the possibility of it continuing through the weekend. 

Until then, residents are trying to remain optimistic.

"It's frustrating, but we have seen the crews working all day and all night," Vandeusen said. "Our Mayor, Kevin Johnson, was driving through town personally delivering water that he had bought, which was very much appreciated. Everyone's trying to do their best and help each other out."

There is still a water boil advisory in effect for the hilltop area. The Portsmouth City Health Department advises the water is safe to shower in, but needs to be boiled before consumption.

Any residents that need drinking water can contact the Portsmouth City Health Department. There is also bulk water available for pick-up at the water treatment plant, but you have to bring your own container.

There is also a 24/7 hotline available for any special needs or concerns regarding the water, which is (740) 354-8931. 

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