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Water restored for half of affected customers

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- More than 51,000 West Virginia American Water customers were approved by Wednesday afternoon to use their tap water.

The "do not use" order was lifted in Sissonville early Wednesday and for the Grandview area of Putnam County a few hours later. No other zones were approved for water use by early evening, although water company spokeswoman Laura Jordan said she hoped more zones would be blue throughout the evening.

Another smaller area that included Brynwood-Elk River, Beacon Ridge, Brook Hill, Credemont, Crestwood, Milliken, Mile Fork Coopers Creek, Jarrell Addition, Jenkins Hollow, Airport, Air National Guard and Eagle View was cleared after 11 p.m. It's been the goal every minute in these recovery efforts to get customers back into usable water again -- and water that's confirmed to be safe for public health and poses no risk," Jordan said.

About half of the company's customers were still without access to potable water seven days after a chemical spill that contaminated the Elk River upstream from the Kanawha Valley's water intake.

A state of emergency is still in effect for Kanawha, Putnam, Boone, Lincoln, Logan, Roane and Clay counties, as well as the Culloden area of Cabell County.

West Virginia American Water customers who wish to know their home's zone status can enter their address into an interactive map, which is available at wvgazette.com. If customers still have questions about their zone, they can call a temporary hot line, at 855-390-4569.

Customers whose homes are located on red islands -- or, donut holes -- surrounded by blue zones on the water company's map are in a different pressure zone, Jordan said.

The water company takes into consideration water sample results, the direction that water flows through underground pipelines and the availability of water for flushing, Jordan said.

"Where you see that border around that red island, it means the hill . . . has a different [water] tank," Jordan said.

Those areas most likely need test results returned and verified.

Water samples must come back to the company with less than 1 part per million of "Crude MCHM" -- the chemical that leaked from the Freedom Industries facility into the Elk River -- before water is deemed usable.

State officials have said they're relying on the federal Centers for Disease Control for that number, but the CDC hasn't divulged how it arrived at the number and has referred questions back to the water company.

"This is a fairly sophisticated process," Jordan said. "We certainly don't expect customers to fully understand the process, but just know there is a strict reason for why we are lifting everything in the order that we are."

WVAW, along with an interagency team of officials from the Bureau for Public Health, the West Virginia National Guard and the Department of Health and Human Resources, created instructions for flushing customers' systems online at www.amwater.com/wvaw/about-us/news.html.

The water company recommends that approved customers flush their pipes with hot water for 15 minutes, the cold water for five minutes, then additional flushing of appliances and exterior faucets.

Jordan would not speak to the methodology behind those instructions, but said those guidelines are based on "a conservative estimate" of how long it would take to empty an average-sized hot-water tank with an average flow to empty and become refilled.

Water specialists have been responding to customers' concerns about discolored water, as well as sediment concerns, which the water company attributes to the flushing process.

Company specialists will do site visits if they decide it's necessary, but they don't collect water samples to test for Crude MCHM levels, Jordan said.

Reach Rachel Molenda at rachel.molenda@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5102.


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