UPDATE 7:50 a.m. TUESDAY WVAWC has added the Edgewood and Southside zones to the lifted areas. Edgewood is on the West Side of Charleston and Southside is generally in the South Hills, Southridge, Montrose Drive areas of Charleston and South Charleston.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — For the first time in more than four days, residents in parts of West Virginia’s capital city are using their tap water again.
The first four zones of West Virginia American Water Company customers, part of the areas in nine counties that have been under a do-not-use order since Thursday night, were cleared to begin a prescribed flushing process on Monday.
Those areas were in Downtown Charleston from the Elk River east to the 35th Street Bridge, including the State Capitol, much of Kanawha City, parts of South Charleston and portions of North Charleston along with Charleston’s West Side.
“We’re finally at a point where the do-not-use order is being lifted in certain areas,” announced Governor Earl Ray Tomblin on Monday.
The flushing process for homes and businesses involves three steps: running all hot water taps for 15 minutes, running all cold water taps for five minutes and then running all remaining faucets, including those outside, and appliances for five minutes.
“Only customers located within zones that have been lifted should begin flushing. If we have problems with pressure in the system, we will not be able to open up additional zones until those pressures are restored,” said Jeff McIntyre, president of West Virginia American Water.
He said the timetable for fully restoring service for all customers would depend on ongoing chemical tests in the individual zones and the demand on the system as more and more homes and businesses resume normal water usage.
“If all the customers in the entire system, or even in small zones, opened all their taps at the same time, they could use ten to 20 times of the water that we can produce in a day,” said McIntyre of the reasoning behind the zone opening process.
“You will extend the time of recovery if you flush too early. You will cost yourself money and you will waste your effort because you’ll be doing it before the water is safe,” said McIntyre to the thousands of people who will have to wait.
Even after flushing, McIntyre said there could be a lingering licorice-like smell, which is expected, but not considered a health issue, since the odor threshold for the chemical that prompted the do-not-use water order is about ten times lower than what is considered a safe level for drinking water.
An estimated 7,500 gallons of crude MCHM, made up primarily of 4-methylcylohexane methane, leaked from a storage tank at Freedom Industries along the Elk River in Charleston back on Thursday.
On the interactive map, water usage is allowed in the blue zones, following flushing, while the do-not-use order is still in effect for the red zones. The “go” zones were changed from green to blue to assist people who are colorblind.
Automated phone calls are also going out to those in zones that are cleared for water restarts.
“We’ve made a lot of progress, but I ask all West Virginians to continue to be patient as we work to safely restore service to the affected areas,” said Tomblin.
Residents in border areas, along the zone lines, can call 1-855-390-4569 to inquire about whether their property is in a blue zone or red zone. All other questions can be directed to WVAW’s 24-hour customer service center at 1-800-685-8660.
Since Thursday night, upwards of 300,000 West Virginians have been told not to use their tap water because of concerns about possible contamination. Officials with the West Virginia National Guard said ongoing tests confirmed the levels of the chemical were low or non-existent in many parts of the system by Monday.
Company officials said water quality was being monitored in Huntington, as the chemical moved downstream, but test results confirmed only trace amounts of the crude MCHM, a chemical used in coal preparation, were going into and coming out of that treatment plant.