Germantown residents and community stakeholders,
A lot has happened since last Thursday. Now that the City has addressed the source of the problem and we’re working aggressively towards a resolution, it’s time to provide you with information about what happened based on what we know at this time, and answer when you can expect to begin flushing your own service lines. The answer upfront to the latter question is that some locations could start with service line flushing as soon as tomorrow. Our first batch of 35 test samples from yesterday’s comprehensive main line flushing program, which included Methodist Hospital, is returning non-detect, clear results.
Let me begin with a brief summary of the events of the past six days.
On July 20, the Public Works Department began receiving calls from citizens concerned about an odor coming from their water.
That afternoon, staff discovered that a diesel fuel leak had taken place on Wednesday at the generator near the Southern Avenue water treatment plant’s underground reservoirs. A generator has been at this location since 1978. The current generator has been in operation quite a bit lately due to recent power outages.
The public was immediately notified through all communication channels available to the City.
The City’s emergency response teams assembled and began their work to mitigate the impact of the spill, with oversight from the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation and professional, contractual assistance from subject matter experts.
A press conference was also scheduled while initial remediation work was underway to inform the public of the details.
An order was quickly established to avoid drinking or bathing with water from the City’s distribution system out of an abundance of caution until we better understood the situation.
A state of emergency was declared shortly thereafter by Mayor Palazzolo and the emergency operations center was activated.
A bottled water distribution plan was put in place the next day to assist citizens in meeting the needs of the community during our remediation work.
Since that time, City staff has been working non-stop to mitigate the potential impact to the community, and has been focused on eliminating any traces of diesel fuel that had already entered the City’s water distribution system as quickly as possible.
Based on the location of initial calls received, the City’s public works water department began to flush hundreds of hydrants to remove any contaminated water out of the main line distribution system.
Pending positive test results from samples at these locations, lateral service lines from the main line to homes and businesses could be flushed also, further eliminating any potentially impacted water servicing those locations. With oversight from TDEC, this has been the game plan from the start.
Based on Sunday’s test results, the City was prepared to roll out a coordinated residential and commercial flushing program on Monday, pending a final round of tests at the Southern Ave. water treatment underground reservoir.
We all were extremely disappointed when the test results came back on Monday afternoon with low level, yet still detectable, amounts of diesel fuel in the reservoir. This was an unwelcome surprise as previous results had led us to believe that the fuel had already been removed from this location.
In planning for the best, but preparing for the worst, representatives with Ensafe, who are specialists in site remediation, were contracted on Sunday to begin their work in investigating the entire contamination source site and they were able to mobilize their resources on Monday.
Due to their excellent work, here’s what we now know for sure. The diesel fuel in the soil at this location was entering a small 1.25 inch hole in a pipe feeding treated water to our underground reservoir.
On Tuesday, the pipe was repaired and the contaminated soil was removed and contained on site and will be properly disposed of as required under regulations.
Also on Tuesday, the City’s test results of the treated water in the underground reservoir were determined to be clear of any traces of diesel fuel.
And yesterday during the late afternoon hours, the City was allowed to proceed with an extensive main line flushing program, starting at the Southern Ave. treatment plant and working away in concentric circles to flush our main lines.
Independent samples of the underground reservoir taken Tuesday evening at 10:30 p.m. by the Shelby County Health Department, as directed by TDEC, have confirmed clear results.
So how did this happen?
At this time, what we know definitively is that the generator servicing the Southern Avenue water treatment plant was the location where the diesel fuel in question originated. There are no other locations storing or requiring diesel fuel that have contributed to this event.
We are nearly complete with our investigation of all potential causes of this incident through multiple, outsourced generator inspections and internal reviews. Results from the generator inspections have returned no mechanical defects. Our preliminary findings indicate that an overflow of diesel fuel occurred on Wednesday during the generator refueling process and that this was a single-event.
As part of their remediation work at the site, Ensafe will implement new, preventative measures in the area of the generator to address everyone’s concerns about whether something like this could ever happen again from this location.
How much diesel fuel left the generator area?
Preliminary estimations were initially that around 50 to 150 gallons of fuel overflowed. We have communicated approximately 100 gallons to date given that range but we are still working on determining a more accurate assessment.
So when will the order be lifted?
This has been the most difficult question to answer over the last six days. We’re doing everything we possibly can, but we move at the speed of our regulatory body’s level of comfort and we are required to follow their guidance.
Finding and eliminating the infiltration source into the underground reservoir was a huge step on Monday, and we took another leap forward with clear test results in the reservoir. The City will be complete with our city-wide main line flushing process today followed by a more targeted approach based on results. Our Public Works department and our firefighters have done an incredible job of completing this strategic work in less than 48 hours. As I stated previously, samples collected are in the process of being submitted multiple times per day.
Our hope is that we will be allowed to notify our residents and businesses by location to begin flushing their own service lines systematically to avoid losing pressure needed to power our water supply and maintain the fire suppression system.
I promise you. We are doing everything we can to comply with regulatory requirements and their requests day-to-day.
All that being said, if all goes according to plan, the answer to when the order will be lifted to commence service line flushing is that for some areas, it could be as soon as tomorrow with good test results and TDEC concurrence… and barring any unforeseen situations or additional, time-consuming requests, it could take up to several more days for us to get there.
Although not anticipated, to address the possibility of a longer-term scenario, we’re actively working with TDEC and contractors to expedite the opening of the City’s newly installed, 500,000 gallon elevated water tower off Poplar Pike and Forest Hill Irene Road.
With TDEC authorization, the inside of the tower will be sanitized, filled with water from the Johnson Road Water treatment plant, and our request is for it to be manually brought online in approximately 10 to 15 days to allow for the Southern Avenue location to be taken completely offline if necessary. The City has never had this option. Having this second tank now allows the City to take the Southern Avenue site out of operation if necessary and maintain pressure in the system with water from the Johnson Road water treatment plant. At this time, we don’t believe that will be necessary. Nonetheless, we’ve learned to expect the unexpected and we’re not taking any chances.
We have done our best to give you SOLID answers when we’ve had them, which has not been often, unfortunately. City staff is doing our best to keep you informed without taking you along with us on the emotional roller coaster ride your city’s public servants have been on. Giving you the information you desire, and you should know at the right time, has been extremely difficult with so many moving targets and 180 degree changes by the minute.
As a fellow resident, my family and I understand what you and your family are going through and like you, we have been praying that this water emergency will be resolved as soon as possible.
As of this afternoon’s results and subsequent conversation with TDEC, we believe we are really close.
To stay informed, especially during the service line flushing process, residents and others who work in Germantown can enroll now to begin receiving emergency text and voice alerts by visiting Germantown-TN.gov/Alert.
If you sign up via text, be sure to follow the instructions in the follow up text you will receive in order to complete your subscription.