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Worst damage to water system in decades due to cold weather

flooded basement cleanup 1

 Damon Howell / Photo

The basement of a Stafford Manor house was flooded  when a water line busted. The carpet, walls and furniture had to be ripped out. 

Midday Wednesday, Jan. 3, Pickens E-911 sent out a Code Red alert urging residents to take precaution against freezing pipes, as city crews were experiencing a high-volume of water loss due to busted lines.

“I’ve been at the water department since 1994 and I can only think of one other cold snap that hurt us this bad,” said Jasper Water Superintendent David Hall, who had crews all over the city handling leaks. “When you’ve got very cold weather before a low of seven degrees, then very cold weather after, that kills us. We’re seeing summer usage and it’s January.”

Beginning New Year’s Eve, temperatures did not rise above freezing for days, with lows in the single digits at times. Lines that are not insulated, heated or buried are prone to busting. Hall’s crews handled numerous calls at commercial and residential structures that have fire protection lines, but have them in an area that is not heated. Lines in a basement with no insulation or heat, outdoor spigots that aren’t insulated, or pipes that aren’t buried deep in the ground are also vulnerable to freezing.  

“If you live in the north you prepare for that, but in the south this kind of cold causes problems,” he said.

Some of the commercial lines that busted were at the old Piggly Wiggly building, the Woodbridge Inn, and the vacant former home of Day’s Chevrolet on Highway 515.

Tuesday, Jan 9, when temps warmed into the high 40s, Hall said the city was in much better shape than they were a few days earlier. Capacity in all eight of the city’s water towers was down to 50 percent during the freeze, which is 30 percent lower than capacity during high-usage months in summer when people are filling swimming pools and watering their yards. In total, he estimates 1 million gallons were lost. 

“Things definitely have improved,” he said. “Now we’ll see what happens when everything thaws out - but our tanks are back up to normal capacity.” 

The damage will likely cost the city a pretty penny in labor and materials, but will possibly also give customers high water bills from all the water lost from the pipes.

“We’ll cut the bill in half, but still,” Hall said. “We really ask people to check their meters and if that gauge is spinning, there is a leak somewhere. We ask people to check in their basements and crawl spaces.”

The city and county also urge residents to leave faucets dripping when temps drop below freezing, and to check vacant properties for leaks. 

The county did not have the same problems the city had with freezing pipes.

“We had an issue at the bridge there in Talking Rock, but we got that under control fairly quickly,” said Pickens County Commission Chair Rob Jones of the bridge over Talona Creek. “Right now we are monitoring, but no we’ve not had it as bad as the city.”

In an unfortunate turn of events, the city was handling a massive water main break at Piedmont Mountainside Hospital the same Wednesday the Code Red call was issued by E-911, “but I don’t think this break is weather related,” Hall said. “This is what you call bad luck.”

A complaint was called into the water department around 6 a.m. Wednesday, Jan. 3 about low pressure at the hospital. Crews arrived to find a flooded parking lot in the street that runs between the hospital and the medical offices. Around 1:30 p.m. the city located the busted area of the pipe, which was buried 15 feet below the ground.

Hall estimated the city lost around half a million gallons of water from the massive leak.