CLAREMORE, Okla. — The situation in Rogers County Rural Water District 3 was described as “devastating,” by District Manager Rick Stull Monday.
Since May 21, the exhausted crewmembers of RWD3 have fixed nine pipeline breaks in creek crossings and are looking for more as four water towers are almost completely empty and refusing to fill.
The water treatment facility is running on full power, producing 400 gallons a minute.
Nearly all of that water is leaking out of the system somewhere between the treatment plant and people’s homes and businesses.
“We have not really ever caught up because we’ve got pipe breaks that we can’t locate due to vegetation and still high, running water,” Stull said.
“Yesterday, I had to replace 240 feet of 6-inch pipeline because the Verdigris River water was so strong that it eroded 45 yards of the east bank of the river and broke the pipeline,” Stull said. “No more than I got that repaired then around 8 p.m. we had two more pipeline breaks.”
One was found and repaired by 12:30 a.m., but the other could not be found.
“To complicate the whole thing, here at the spillway we have a 12-inch pipeline that is in the middle of of the spillway water flow that is completely down because it is broke in the middle somewhere,” Stull said.
The Corps of Engineers could give the district a maximum 12-hour window to shut down the spillway in order to find and repair the damage, but Stull said that would not be enough time.
The east side of the district, including Chelsea and Foyil, is now being supplied solely by one 8-inch pipeline.
“If this district has ever been in a pickle, it is now,” Stull said. “My guys are working long hours. We’re hardly sleeping. We’re trying to do the best we can.”
Many customers are completely out of water. Others have been asked to curtail water usage.
“Use as little as you can of the water that is in the pipes,” Stull said to residents who still have water.
“Some of them don’t have a choice,” he added, addressing those who don’t.
RWD3 is methodically trying to locate leaks by valving off sections of line, but each shut valve takes at least an hour to test if it had any impact on the amount of water in the associated water tower. From that point they can walk the section of line in question until the find the leak and can make repairs.
“We’ve walked miles and miles out there, even at night,” Stull said. “We’re working almost 24/7 with the people that we have.”
Not including the crew member who has to be at the water treatment plant around the clock, RWD3 has six personnel equipped to locate and repair water line breaks in the field.
“We’re walking these lines right now, trying to find anywhere that there could be a break,” Stull said.
This process is made more difficult when customers use too much water.
It is made nearly impossible when there is no water left in a pipe at all so the leak can’t be found.
“This is the worst scenario,” Stull said. “This is about as bad as having a pipeline break under a river, because you can’t do anything with it.”
Stull said that the age of the waterlines had little to no impact on the breakages.
“This district was started in the late 1960s, so some of the lines are fairly old, but that is not the reason for our pipeline breaks,” Stull said. “It is simply high, rushing water and washouts causing the pipes to break.”
“We are really in bad shape,” Stull said. “It has never been this way.”
Customers have been asked to help look for water breaks by checking any creek beds that run through their properties for unusual flooding or turbulence.
There is also a recommended boil advisory in place for those who have water, though it is not a DEQ mandatory boil.
“I’d rather be safe than sorry,” Stull said. “Water is a food product and we take it very, very serious.”
“It’s pretty devastating,” Stull said. “If I had a way of just jumping out there and finding them all, I would have already done it. We are doing all we can right now to get this going, and we have since day 1.”
Free bottled water is available to those without drinking water at the Foyil Fire Department.
Over the last three weeks the Cherokee Nation has donated nearly 200 cases of water to the fire department to assist with the public need.
As of Monday, there are approximately 60 cases left.
Foyil Fire Chief Randy Atchley said residents can pick up cases of bottled water between 7 a.m. and 3 p.m.
If there is an emergency need outside of that time period residents can call 918-343-9234.
Donations of bottled water can also be left at the fire department between 7 a.m. and 3 p.m.