Balloon found to be culprit behind water problems

(Photo by John Manchester)
This “Congrats Grad!” balloon was the culprit behind all the water trouble for Lewisburg Municipal Water customers just before the Labor Day weekend.

On Wednesday, Aug. 29, the City of Lewisburg announced on their Facebook page that the Lewisburg Municipal Water Plant was experiencing some “water pumping issues,” and asked residents to lower their water usage while the issue was resolved.

The cause of all the commotion? A balloon that managed to blockade itself in one of the large pipes at the water treatment plant. The blockage restricted the water pumping capacity to 75 percent, dropping from two million gallons daily to one and a half million gallons.

Figuring out that a blockage was the problem took a lot of work, all systems and controls at the water plant were checked, Fire Chief Joseph Thomas suited up and dove into the sediment basin in order to feed a camera through the intake pipes, and the fire department brought over a tanker to blast 2,000 gallons of water at a high pressure back through the line in the opposite direction to dislodge the obstruction. After removing the offending balloon, water tank levels started to improve and function at full capacity.

Before discovering the blockage, the situation escalated to a mandatory water conservation for all customers, and water tankers were placed north of town and at the hospital to help provide sufficient water for the area. A boil water advisory was then implemented for all water customers as a precaution, as is standard when there are problems with a water plant. When tank levels decrease at a water plant, it increases the chance of there being sediment in the water. A boil water advisory does not necessarily mean that drinking water is inherently dangerous or unsafe to consume.

Later in the day, water levels began rising and the system resumed functioning as designed. Gradual improvements in tank levels over the weekend led to the lifting of the boil water advisory, and by Labor Day everything had returned to normal.

According to the City of Lewisburg’s Facebook page: “The health departments control when boil water advisories are set in place and when they are removed. Advisories are always issued in an abundance of caution, most often when water levels in tanks are low. The city, in conjunction with emergency management, makes the announcements for either voluntary or mandatory water conservation alerts.”

Lewisburg Mayor John Manchester said, “There has not been a health emergency associated with this event, the boil water notice is triggered when tank levels get low enough to force the announcement as a generalized precaution. Be assured we are working to improve the reliability of the water system we depend upon, and the information dispersal necessary for people to plan accordingly.”

The question remains of how the balloon got into the system in the first place. Manchester says that the balloon was most likely released during a recent graduation ceremony, and just so happened to float down directly into the sediment basin in the back right corner, getting sucked into the system. “It chose the exact worst place, which we have since remedied to make sure that something like this doesn’t happen again. This was a crazy set of circumstances that took a good bit of detective work to figure out, but the situation has been handled and future precautions taken.”