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Hard work, clean water

September 6, 2010

The water line break in Newton was a challenge for the city’s Public Works employees.

“That was the worst leak I’ve seen,” said Tim Abernethy, Newton Water Plant supervisor. “I’ve seen some come close, but not that bad.”

Crews worked more than 24 hours to repair the pipe that broke around 3 a.m. Aug. 24, and the incident, which cost the city millions of gallons of water, was a learning experience for everyone involved.

“They called me at 3 a.m. and said they were losing water,” said Abernethy, who has worked with Newton for 33 years. “When I was coming into work around 3:30 (a.m.), I was already looking for places where we could be losing water. We knew it was a major leak by how fast we were losing water.”

The leak, located on U.S. 70 near Isaac Construction, was finally discovered when workers saw large amounts of muddy water running in a ravine.

“That’s how we knew,” Abernethy said. “The muddy water was a giveaway.”
More than 100 workers helped find and repair the leaking pipe, and the city continued to experience problems even after the pipe was repaired.
The water system lost pressure during the leak, which potentially allowed bacteria to enter Newton’s drinking water. For about a day, residents were advised to boil any city water they used for consumption.
Eddy Copeland, Water Treatment Plant chief operator, was one of the employees who went around to water collection sites throughout the city to test water samples for safety.

“The results of those tests decided when the boil alert ended,” Copeland said.

There are more than 80 collection sites throughout the city, and workers are required to send 15 samples from the collection sites to North Carolina officials on a regular basis.

To collect samples, Copeland cleans the outside of the spigot with Lysol, or he sanitizes non-plastic spigots with a flame.

“You’ve got to get the spigot clean because you could still have bacteria on the outside of the spigot,” he said. “You don’t want any false positives because of contamination.”

Copeland takes the water sample and incubates it. Samples with bacteria present will turn green, and samples with no bacteria present will turn brown.

“It’s a varied job duty,” Copeland said. “It’s a good crew, and it’s a steady job. People are always going to need water.”

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