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Portsmouth’s water problem: The Price of Progress


Portsmouth has a water problem. That will neither surprise nor shock most our readers.

What is shocking is that much of the city’s water lines and accompanying infrastructure dates back almost 100 years.

“We’ve honestly been lucky,” said Acting City Manager Sam Sutherland. “The pipes were installed in 1923. Their lifespan is supposed to be around 30 years…and they are way passed that.”

Workers recently began a massive project to replace that aged infrastructure. But there was a problem. On Friday, the SOMC Cancer Center reported low water pressure. The old pipes were not reacting well. Then, the situation got worse: a water break occurred on Washington Street, an old valve broke on Offner and Kinney’s Lane, and sediment crept into the reservoir.

“We tried to reverse the flow of water, but it got worse. Water levels dropped to critical and it put us in the position we are in now…each little impact, from a water break to using a fire hydrant, can cause a drop in pressure in the system.”

The Hilltop area as well as SOMC and KDMC Ohio were still experiencing low water pressure and discolored water as of Tuesday. Sutherland asks that all Portsmouth residents restrict water usage until the system has normalized.

The entire project could take as long as 180 days to complete. Residents should anticipate further setbacks in the next 6 months.

“It’s a process…we are replacing the waterlines on Robinson/Offnere all the way up to the Sunrise reservoir. We are also installing a new pumping station.”

Mayor and 3rd Ward City Councilman Kevin E. Johnson has been the liason between city officials and the public.

“I want to encourage everyone to be patient in this process,” said Mayor Johnson. “This is all in the name of progress. We are dealing with a 100-year old water line. And I’d love to say this is the only time it’s going to happen, but it’s probably not. I foresee more issues. It’s just part of the growing pains.”

Johnson has took to Facebook to keep the public informed throughout the entire process. He says if he’s learned anything, it’s that the city needs an emergency response system suitable for the 21st century.

“I’ really proud of our citizens. I have seen some complaints on social media, but for the most part, they just want to know what’s going on…We do need to look at better ways of communicating when we have issues like this. We need a better line of communication. When my daughters went to SSU, they got alerts if something was wrong. Why can’t we do that?”

Johnson said Police Chief Ware demonstrated to him a sophisticated system that citizens can subscribe to in which they pick and choose what emergency alerts they receive. The alerts can range from water information, school closings, to police and fire alerts.

“It would be a great way to communicate to our residents,” said Johnson. “This is a learning curve for us, but I can promise we aren’t going to sit on it. We will do better going forward.”

Johnson and his family also took it upon themselves to deliver water to those affected by the waterline outages.

“It was a family affair,” laughed Johnson. “We took our kids and passed out 1,200 bottles of water. Kroger’s gave us a discount and that’s just another example of our community helping community. Restaurants sent in food. People dropped off food and drinks. We came together just like we always do.”

He also applauded the men and women who spent long hours over the weekend repairing the problem.

“I can’t say enough for all the men and women whom work so hard to see we have water service. The are down in the dirty trenches at all hours.”

Sam Sutherland confirmed that.

“My guys have been working their tails off. And I’m right there with them.”

For now, residents in the City are encouraged to boil their water if they are experiencing discoloration or low water pressure. Mayor Johnson also asks they keep being patient until the new piping is fully installed.

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