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Several Back-Up Plans For Cincinnati Water In Case Of Disaster

The pumping station on Eastern Avenue is the main source of drinking water for GCWW's 1.1 million customers.
Tana Weingartner
The pumping station on Eastern Avenue is the main source of drinking water for GCWW's 1.1 million customers.

Greater Cincinnati Water Works has a back-up plan in case of disaster. In fact, the water district has several redundancies either ready to go or are nearing completion.

Dayton, and much of Montgomery County, last week were under a boil advisory after tornadoes cut the power to the water system. City Manager Shelley Dickstein says the main water treatment facility did not have emergency generators because they're costly and are not an industry standard. Electricity was restored to Dayton's pumping stations and treatment facilities before the end of the week.

In 2005, Greater Cincinnati Water Worksstarted looking at scenarios and how to avoid some of the worst cases. Deputy Director Verna Arnette says that research was inspired by the Great Blackout of 2003. "Since then, we've been putting generators in as part of our capital program. We're still in the implementation phase of that, but we have installed generators at key facilities already."

She says the generators are expensive and are large. "When you get into the larger facilities that utilize thousands of horsepower, we're talking very large generators that would be required. They would not be considered portable by any means."

One of GCWW's pump station generators.
Credit Provided / Greater Cincinnati Water Works
Greater Cincinnati Water Works
One of GCWW's pump station generators.

All of this costs a lot. Arnette says "It's not something you can implement in a few months. It really does require a large sum of capital investment and time. Even getting a project started, it may be a couple of years before you get the generator ordered and delivered and installed."

GCWW also has storage facilities including water towers and reservoirs. Once an open-air reservoir, Eden Park is covered now, but still holds about 80-million gallons of water.

"We also have multiple pump stations that serve each service area so if one station goes down, we can rely on the other stations to get supply to that area. So it's really not just generators but it's a series of risk-mitigation strategies that we employ," she says.

Those other strategies include hooking redundant power lines into facilities, and listing GCWW as a critical customer with Duke Energy, so if power is cut, it will be one of the first places crews respond to restore service.

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Rinehart has been a radio reporter since 1994 with positions in markets like Omaha and Lincoln, Nebraska; Sioux City, Iowa; Dayton, Ohio: and most recently as senior correspondent and anchor for Cincinnati’s WLW-AM.