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Water restored in York County but caution urged; schools to open Friday

By noon Thursday, most people in York County had water even if they had to be cautious using it.

A 20-inch water main broke Wednesday at the Rock Hill water filter plant on Cherry Road releasing millions of gallons of water and leaving consumers with little or no service.

A county-wide boil water advisory remains in effect through Friday and may be extended depending on the water quality.

Jimmy Bagley, deputy city manager, said during a press conference Thursday it took several hours to get the broken pipe replaced, but the system, which serves 120,000 customers in Rock Hill, York County, Fort Mill, Tega Cay, and Lake Wylie, is back online and the tanks were filling.

By the evening, he said the county would be back at full water pressure. He said those closer to the system should see almost full pressure by lunch time.

About 30 million gallons of water was lost from the city’s system as a result of the break, Bagley said.

The department is re-pressurizing the system and flushing hydrants to reduce air in the lines and clear sediment. He said some areas of the county may still see discoloration.

“Most areas are looking really, really well,” Bagley said. “There are few areas we are flushing a little bit longer to make sure any items that had been stirred up get moved through the line.”

Mayor John Gettys said people are able to shower, but he advises them to use boiled or bottled water to wash hands, brush teeth and cook food. He said only consume water that has been boiled and cooled.

“The availability of water at your faucet may give a false sense of security,” Gettys said.

Rock Hill has sent water samples to the Department of Health and Environmental Control to monitor water quality and will send more samples throughout the day, Gettys said.

The cast iron pipe, which originally was 20 feet long, ruptured around 1 p.m. Wednesday. Bagley said a portion of the cracked pipe lost the entire bottom section.

At 4 p.m. Wednesday, Cherry Road was closed for several blocks between Mt. Gallant Road and the parking lot at Publix. Inches-deep water had filled much of the street and drain lines were overloaded.

The water plant shut down around 5 p.m. The flow of water didn’t slow down enough for crews to start working until about 9:30 p.m. By 1 a.m. the cracked pipe was replaced and the plant was back on at 3 a.m.

“We’ve been in the water business for 100 years,” Bagley said. “And this is the first time I’m aware we’ve had a situation where we’ve lost water or power to the degree that it brought the whole system down.”

The pipe, which is about 70 years old, was scheduled to be replaced in 18 months, Gettys said. The break was not caused by construction on Cherry Road.

“This was not worker negligence,” he said. “This was not contractor driven. This was not anything other than an old pipe that has been under the ground since 1949 and outlived its life.”

Bagley said the area’s drought, which could to get more severe, is likely linked to the water line break.

“Certainly in the summertime, drought conditions where we’re putting out more pressure ... harder than ever before, I think certainly probably stressed (the pipe) more than it was capable of handling,” he said.

Bagley did not say whether the water loss will move the area into severe drought status sooner than expected. He said there’s been inclination from the farming community to move into severe drought prior to the water line break.

About 12 million gallons of water was released in less than 4 hours when the pipe broke, officials said. That’s enough water to fill roughly 18 Olympic-sized swimming pools.

Rock Hill draws water from Lake Wylie and sells it to Fort Mill, Tega Cay, York and York County. The county distributes it to customers and private water providers, including Blue Granite Water Company in Lake Wylie.

Piedmont Medical Center was operating Wednesday through Thursday, but canceled elective and outpatient surgeries for Thursday, hospital officials said.

The water break also caused havoc to traffic on Cherry Road near the water plant at the intersection of Mount Gallant Road. Motorists were detoured to Anderson Road, Eden Terrace, and other routes.

Parts of Cherry Road re-opened Thursday morning.

Bagley said there’s no way to ensure a break like this doesn’t happen again. He said the city has spent millions each year to replace pipes.

“We do have a plan to try to identify any pipes that are undersized and any pipes that we feel need to be replaced for various reasons,” Bagley said. “It hasn’t happened before and I hope that never happens again. We do have probably a better system than most places in terms of maintaining the system and getting out, spending money to reinvest into those type situations. I think that’s why we’ve not had one before.”

School schedules

The broken pipe and concerns about safety forced schools to close across York County Thursday, as well as area colleges. York County opened most offices Thursday morning.

All York County school districts will operate on a normal schedule Friday. After school activities will continue as scheduled.

Rock Hill students should bring a bottle of water for drinking, according to the district.

“All water fountains will be closed and our cafeterias will operate using the boil water protocols provided by SC DHEC,” reads a statement from Fort Mill. “A modified food menu will be used and information regarding the menu can be found in the student nutrition section of the district website. The district will supply bottled water to all facilities for drinking and all restrooms will be operational.”

Hand sanitizer will be available on campuses, according to the Fort Mill school district.

York also is following DHEC guidelines, providing a modified lunch menu and closing water fountains Friday, according to the district.

“We encourage students to bring a sealed bottle of water to school for drinking during the day,” reads a statement from the district.

Oakridge Elementary, Crowders Creek Elementary and Oakridge Middle School in Clover will reopen Friday, according to the district. Water fountains will be closed and the district will follow DHEC guidelines. The district will provide water bottles to the impacted schools.

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