Lee Creek issues force city of Fort Smith to enact water conservation measures

by Tina Alvey Dale ([email protected]) 2,675 views 

One week after Fort Smith residents were told they have no need to worry about water conservation requests from the city because city reservoirs are 90% full, the city of Fort Smith announced Thursday (Aug. 4) Conservation Phase II water restrictions are in effect through Aug. 12.

On July 26, Fort Smith Utilities Director Lance McCoy said that though several cities in Arkansas, including Cedarville and others in South Sebastian County, have water restrictions in place because of the lack of rain and excessive heat of the past several weeks, Fort Smith’s water supply was fine.

Though the city’s water supply has not suddenly dropped, residents were told Thursday (Aug. 4) that water conservation efforts are in effect. According to the notice, the city’s Lee Creek Water Treatment Plant experienced a mechanical issue and was partially shut down for maintenance on Tuesday (Aug. 2).

“The plant was still able to produce 5 million gallons per day by using a small back-up system during the start of the maintenance. Lake Fort Smith was able to increase water production to maintain the water supply to Fort Smith and our contract users. This redundancy allows us to provide clean drinking water to the benefit of all users,” noted a news release.

Once the maintenance was completed and staff began the process of returning the Lee Creek plant to full water production, another maintenance issue was found that required Lee Creek to be completely shut down to repair.

“Normally, this type of work and maintenance is only completed during the winter months when water demand is low. Unfortunately, the repairs are the result of unforeseen maintenance issues and needed to be completed immediately,” the news release said.

During the treatment process at the Lee Creek plant, water passes through a “clearwell” area, which stores finished drinking water prior to sending it to customers. That area has baffles that hang from a railing to help mix the water and chlorine, which is used for disinfection.

“The wires holding the curtain baffles broke and several of the baffles fell,” said City Administrator Carl Geffken.

Staff reattached the curtains with new wire, but the clearwell is required to be cleaned, disinfected and tested prior to being put back into service, he said.

“This process will take several days to complete. The clearwell and curtain baffle system allows Lee Creek to produce 22 million gallons per day (MGD) of drinking water. Since this system is offline, the plant can’t produce enough water to meet the current demand,” Geffken said.

During maintenance, a smaller contact chamber is used to provide a smaller amount of drinking water, Geffken added. That chamber has a maximum flow rate of 5 million gallons a day.

“This was brought on line, but shortly afterwards a leak was discovered in the chemical feed system and the plant was taken completely offline. Staff is working to repair this leak to allow the plant to provide some water to aid in meeting the demand, but identifying where the leak is occurring is challenging,” Geffken said. “These problems were not expected but staff is working on the repairs as quickly as possible.”

To ensure the city is providing safe drinking water, the plant is offline until all repairs can be made to the secondary contact chamber, or the clearwell is cleared for operation, whichever comes first, he said. Repairs are expected to be finished by Monday (Aug. 8) with full water production expected to be restored by Aug. 12, the news release said.

While city administrators said there will be no compromise to public health or safety during this time, water restrictions have been put in place. Geffken issued a Phase II emergency water conservation declaration on Thursday. The requirements of the water conservation declaration include:
• No person shall use water to such an extent as to allow water to escape from his premises onto public property, such as alleys or streets, nor onto another person’s property.
• Customers should refrain from using water to water systems or sprinklers to water lawns, shrubs, plants, trees. and gardens. The watering of shrubs, plants, trees, and gardens is permitted only by handheld hose and should be limited to the minimum amounts necessary to sustain plant life. All lawn and turf watering from city sources is prohibited.
• Residents should not motor vehicles, trailers, airplanes, or boats. The notice said that this does not apply to commercial car washes and licensed dealerships. However, the city does ask they use as little water as possible.
• Customers should not fill swimming pools or fountains.
• Customers should not wash building exteriors.
• Customers may not wash sidewalks, walkways, driveways, patios, parking lots, concrete tennis courts, and other hard-surfaced areas by hosing or by use of water directly from faucets or other city sources.

The use of water from fire hydrants at any time for construction purposes, fire drills or routine hydrant testing is prohibited. Only non-potable water may be used for dirt compaction, earth moving operations, or street base course construction, the notice said.

“Golf course watering and other commercial irrigation from city sources shall be done only to the extent necessary to preserve turf and other plant life. Golf courses are permitted to water only greens and tee boxes from city sources. Golf course fairway and rough watering and school football and baseball field watering from city sources is prohibited,” the notice said.

Food processing and food service establishments may engage in such use of water only to the extent necessary to maintain and preserve the public health and in compliance with any state or federal regulations. Restaurants and other food service establishments may hose or wash only walkways immediately adjacent to entrances and not beyond 10 feet of entrances and not beyond ten 10 feet of garbage facilities, food delivery or food serving areas.

Fort Smith provides water to 14 other water systems from the Lake Fort Smith and Lee Creek plants, McAvoy said. Among those are Winslow, Chester, Mountainburg, Hwy 71 Water Users, Cedarville, Van Buren, Barling, Arkoma, Franklin/Sebastian Water Users, Central City, Rural Water District No. 7 in Oklahoma, Fort Chaffee, Concord Water and Lavaca, he said. Fort Smith is also an emergency supply for Alma.

Lake Fort Smith, located in Crawford County, was developed in 1935 and significantly expanded in 2006. Lee Creek Reservoir, a secondary water source, was built in the early 1990s. According to city info, Fort Smith manages more than 700 miles of water transmission and distribution water mains, two treatment plants, 16 pump stations, 11 pressure reducing stations, and 13 water storage tanks. The city also says it produces more than 10.5 billion gallons of drinking water per year.