Towns have water problems during prolonged freeze

Robert Smith
Pawhuska Journal-Capital

A region-wide cold weather emergency last week led to water supply problems in several Osage County municipalities. Emergency Management Director Jerry Roberts said Wednesday, Feb. 17, that arrangements had been made to provide residents of Avant, Hominy and Shidler with bottled water.

Roberts said Osage Nation Emergency Management had made available bottled water that was then provided to Shidler, where the water plant was temporarily out of service. The town said on its Facebook page shortly after 7 a.m. Tuesday, Feb. 16, that there was no water service due to freezing temperatures.

Shortly after 1 p.m. that day, the town of Shidler announced the availability of a donation of bottled water, and a distribution limit of 6 bottles per household. By about 6 p.m. the same day, the town posted a message to the effect that, “the water issue has been remedied and water should be restored.” Residents were cautioned that they might have low water pressure and discolored water on a temporary basis.

Roberts said the water plant at Hominy was producing water for public use, but the net effect of dripping water taps throughout the community was that there wasn’t enough water available for consumption. It became necessary for the city of Hominy to cease providing water to the Dick Conner Correctional Center temporarily in order to build up its own water reserve, he said.

Bill Bruce, utilities director for the city of Pawhuska, told the Pawhuska City Council on Thursday night, Feb. 18, that the city had been providing water for the prison, to help it along.

In Avant, the town water system completely went down on Tuesday, Feb. 16, and by the end of the week local officials were implementing a plan to make repairs and restore service.

“Right now we’re getting by,” Avant Mayor Shearl Brinson said in a brief telephone interview Friday morning, Feb. 19.

Brinson said that Roberts helped by arranging for a pallet of bottled water, and by arranging for the city to use a 500-gallon trailer to dispense potable water at the fire station. The trailer had been filled and then refilled, Brinson said.

“So we’re doing OK on drinking water right now,” he said.

No one had yet seen the water system damage, which was underwater, but the assumption was that it was a broken line, Brinson said Friday.

“But we do have a plan in place.” he added, noting that the city had purchased a variety of parts to respond to whatever divers might find at the bottom of the lake from which Avant’s water is drawn.

Brinson said in a written statement Friday that Avant lost pressure to its water system early Tuesday, Feb. 16 and the town’s water supervisor began assessing the situation. By working with Osage County Emergency Management, Avant officials were able to provide bottled water and potable water in a 500-gallon trailer to residents.

Brinson said the city had formulated a multi-step plan to remedy the problem. He said a precautionary boil order, which was Step 1 of the plan, was already in place, and divers were expected to visit Avant during the weekend to assess the infrastructure problem in the lake.

Brinson indicated in his statement that the town hoped to have the problem repaired and to be at the point of pressurizing water lines and checking for leaks by Wednesday, Feb. 24.

Brinson said in a Feb. 16 post on the town’s official Facebook page that the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) had been made aware of the problem.

By the next day, Feb. 17, Facebook posts provided Avant residents with information about the availability of bottled drinking water at the town hall, and of potable water in a trailer at the fire station. Households were initially limited to one 5-gallon container each of the potable water available at the fire station. That limit was later lifted, on the afternoon of Feb. 18, after residents had been given some time to address their water needs.

By Thursday evening, town officials were about out of provided drinking water, but were planning to look into the possibility of obtaining more.

The agenda for a Feb. 22 town meeting reflected a $10,000 budget adjustment anticipated in support of the water system.