Winter storm keeping Panola paralyzed; city dealing with leaks

Published 12:55 pm Thursday, January 18, 2024

As Batesville and Panola County remain virtually paralyzed by this week’s winter storm, city and county workers are on call and working to keep utilities and services operating at a minimal level. County courthouses and Batesville City Hall were scheduled to open on an abbreviated schedule today, but all offices were closed for safety reasons.

“We are doing what we can, but today is by far the worst day we’ve had since this started,” said Batesville Public Works Director David Karr. “There are places you can’t even walk today because what froze overnight.”

“When it warmed up Wednesday the public was out looking around and I get that, everybody wants to know what’s happening, but it seemed to break up the layer of snow we were driving on this morning there was ice everywhere.”

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Frustrating to county road employees and the city crews is the inability to work on road conditions today because the equipment can’t be safely driven on the roads. Response times for ambulances, water line breaks, and a myriad of other normal calls are greatly reduced today in comparison to the first days of this weather system.

Karr said the city, like the county road department, also looked into purchasing snow plows and other snow removal equipment several years ago, but decided against the expenditure based on capital outlay and the needed maintenance. “It’s just not worth the expense for places as far south as we are. You have to use your money where it benefits the most people for the most time, and we just don’t get this weather enough for what it cost to buy and keep up.”

Karr said water department workers have cut off dozens of meters at the street when homeowners have called reporting burst pipes and asking for disconnection until repairs can be made.

In addition, the water department has been busy locating and repairing water breaks, leaks, and minor malfunctions that would have led to water pressure decrease, or even loss, if not addressed in a timely manner.

Some 2.9 million gallons of water was pumped into Batesville lines on Wednesday, about 1.6 million more gallons that is normal for a winter day, Karr said.

Water left dripping at faucets can account for a small fraction of the lost water, but the majority came from two major leaks – one at an apartment complex where water poured from a broken line for hours, and another at a fire suppression system behind Lowe’s, where hundreds of thousands of gallons flowed unchecked from a stuck valve.

“These things happen in extreme cold, but fortunately we have an overall good system and people and we were able to take care of that,” Karr said. “This isn’t Jackson where a cold snap causes 135 major leaks, and the upgrades we’ve made in the last couple of years has really made a difference for us.”

Instead of major leaks running unchecked for days, or even weeks before they are seen and reported, most of Batesville’s breaks are detected through warning systems that have been installed on all city wells and in storage tank towers.

Karr said city employees began to get text messages early alerting them that both the Shuford Hill and east Batesville water towers had a change in level and were approaching low marks.

“We knew then that water was running somewhere and we knew the areas,” Karr said. “So instead of riding and walking and looking for the leak we were able to find the problems pretty quick. That potentially saved us from having parts of the city losing water.”

Karr said the alert system, along with the city’s effort to have all underground utilities mapped and coordinated, pays dividends in these emergency situations.

“We know so much more about what we are working with now than we did even two or three years ago. Our maps are better, we have found valves we didn’t know about and manhole covers that have been paved over. All that we have been mapping and fixing where we can and it’s letting us get things fixed quicker.”

Mayor Hal Ferrell said city residents should remember that crews have worked in freezing weather all week to keep services and utilities running.

Streets are covered with packed ice. City equipment is having difficulty staying on the roads.  Also, the water and gas departments are out addressing problems,” Ferrell said. “The city’s crews are in this freezing cold trying to keep us up and going.  Many, many thanks to our dedicated employees. Unless it’s an emergency, please stay off the streets.”

“Be assured, I am doing everything possible to provide safety, water, and warmth for everyone” Ferrell said.

In the county, Eureka Water Association had a well breakdown Monday leaving some residents of east Panola without water until Tuesday, but there have been no reports of any other water system outages so far.

TVEPA has reported few outages and none that have lasted more than a couple of hours. Unlike many winter weather events, this week’s snow and ice has not accumulated on power lines or tree branches, the worst scenario for electricity providers because in those situations there in no way to stop outages when that occurs.