The investigation of the source of a gaseous substance in the Town of Louisa/Louisa Water Authority system last week continues. The nature of the situation (utility-scale water distribution system, unknown contaminant, etc.) has added to the complexity of the investigation and related efforts to bring closure. All potential causes continue to be diligently evaluated.
Sensing/detection equipment was employed by local staff and state Hazmat personnel during the event. A “positive” test result occurs if the equipment detects what it recognizes as one of four gases: butane, propane, methane, or natural gas. Concentrations were higher near ceilings – since natural gas and methane rise, additional focus has been concentrated on these substances. Authorities immediately arranged for the use of a mass spectrometry test very early Friday morning to precisely identify the contaminant, and two separate multi-sample water tests were analyzed by the state’s Division of Consolidated Labs. Both sets of tests (one of which was conducted prior to the system flush) revealed no harmful water contaminants and as such could not identify the substance. The possibility of a sewer system gas buildup is also being evaluated. Given the extent of potential causes, authorities are considering a third party engineering firm to further assist in the investigation if necessary.
Further testing took place Friday. Wwater authority and town personnel continue to very closely monitor the water system. Staff performed a full system flush and worked carefully with a number of customers to assist with end-user flushing Friday afternoon. Personnel responded to two calls over the weekend to check on suspicious circumstances, but no contaminants have been detected since the system flush. If the presence of a contaminant is identified in the future, similar protocols (notifications, efforts to contain, etc.) will immediately be employed.
“I want our users to know this—your water is safe,” Louisa County Water Authority General Manager Pam Baughman. “The treatment plant’s state-of-the-art nanofiltration system continues to operate exactly as designed, and we test regularly. Our personnel are committed to working with the Town to deliver safe, clean water.”
The United States Environmental Protection Agency, Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, Virginia Department of Health / Office of Drinking Water, Virginia Department of Emergency Management and numerous other regulatory agencies were kept abreast of the situation and have reviewed test results and actions taken. The agencies have concurred with those action, and the Water Authority and Town are grateful for their continued guidance and oversight. The situation benefitted from prior emergency planning – the Emergency Operations Center, County’s Citizen Alert System, Emergency Sheltering and related protocols were employed successfully. As always, citizens are encouraged to sign up for the Citizen Alert System at louisacounty.com.
“Safety is our number one concern, and the water is completely safe right now,” Louisa Town Mayor Garland Nuckols said. “Our primary focus is on identifying the cause and we believe we may be close to doing so. In the meantime, citizens need to know that we are actively monitoring and testing. If anything out of the ordinary comes up, we’ll do exactly what we did last time—act quickly, notify widely, and do everything necessary to ensure that people are safe.”
The Water Authority and Town of Louisa are staffed with dedicated personnel who are committed to the reliable delivery of safe and effective services. In addition to ensuring the safety of those in the vicinity of the situation, transparency is a critical contingent of these and all governmental efforts. The town and water authority sincerely regret the alarm and inconvenience caused by the situation, and continue to work diligently to identify the source of the contaminant.
“Doing this the right way is our responsibility and our duty to the citizens,” Town Manager Tom Filer said. “A critical part of this effort is rebuilding the public’s trust, and we are actively about that goal every day as we ensure clean, safe water for our citizens.”
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