Faucet-drip advice raises concerns of state's water systems

Some urging conservation as fear of burst pipes lifts usage

Water is seen dripping from a water sprinkler against residential apartment buildings in this March 24, 2011, file photo.

Some communities have asked residents to conserve water this week after snow blanketed the state and cold weather raised the specter of burst or frozen pipes, leading people to let faucets drip.

The Washington Water Authority in Northwest Arkansas on Thursday asked residents, especially those south of Fayetteville and Farmington, to save water.

"Usage is drastically up the past few days in areas ranging from 67% to 150% over what the usage was just last week," the water utility said in a statement on its website. "The water system in the south part of Washington County is struggling to keep up with everyone's water demand."

The water department for Greenbrier in north-central Arkansas also has asked residents to try to conserve water, according to department superintendent Jeff Ward.

[UPDATE: Central Arkansas utility asks customers to begin conserving water » arkansasonline.com/219caw/]

A notice on the city's website Thursday asked people to conserve as the water supply runs low during increased demand, and to leave only one faucet dripping -- not running -- to prevent lines from freezing.

Ward said the city does not treat its own water and instead buys water from Community Water System in Greers Ferry. Greenbrier has a population of about 4,700.

Community Water System is "having trouble keeping enough water treated to get to us," Ward said.

A voice message that played on Community Water System's phone line on Thursday asked customers to save water as much as possible during the cold snap, as well as over the next seven days, explaining that "water storage is critically low."

Customers were asked to limit running faucets "to no more than a drip every two to three seconds," and discontinue dripping faucets once outside temperatures rise above freezing.

According to Ward, residents have been letting their water run and have been asked to conserve because of the stress on Community Water System. Officials have been in constant communication with the water system, he said.

The Bee Branch Water Association issued alerts on its website this week, including messages that asked residents to conserve water, updated them about the status of a leak in a water main and relayed a precautionary order to boil drinking water in certain areas.

The association listed areas along U.S. 65 south of Ranch Road as being under the boil order once water had been restored.

The boil order could remain in effect for three to seven business days before the association receives clearance from health officials, according to an alert the Bee Branch association posted on its website Thursday.

Earlier this week Damascus, in Faulkner and Van Buren counties, asked for as much water conservation as possible.

"Our supplier is not supplying as much as we are using. Please for tonight at a minimum, no baths, no showers, no laundry, no dishwasher," according to one Facebook post from the town's account that was issued Tuesday evening.

On Thursday, the town reported being in a better position with regard to water, but community members were asked to continue conserving and to check outdoor faucets for leaks.

In Garland County, Hot Springs residents were likewise asked to be mindful of water usage.

"We are making all the water we can and are losing ground," city utilities director Monty Ledbetter said in a news release issued Wednesday. "People are running water in their homes, and that is OK, but it appears they may be running too much."

Authorities in other communities said they have not issued calls related to water conservation.

An official with Jonesboro's City Water and Light Department said no conservation request has been made. Special-projects administrator Kevan Inboden said the department has not seen a significant increase in water use.

Inboden said he was surprised by reports of system problems around the country that were attributed to letting water run to prevent frozen pipes.

"That's kind of surprising," he said. "That's customers using a lot of water there. Normally if you're just letting your water drip, it shouldn't impact your system that greatly."

Inboden said the city has experienced a few water-main breaks. He estimated the number to be at least half a dozen over the past week.

When reached by email Thursday, Fayetteville's utilities director, Tim Nyander, suggested Fayetteville has not experienced water conservation problems.

"What I have heard is that some communities have experienced waterline [freeze-ups which doesn't allow them to keep their tanks filling or full," Nyander wrote. "That [will] be a call for water conservation. Fortunately, Fayetteville has not had that issue yet."

A spokesman for Central Arkansas Water, which supplies nearly half a million customers in the greater Little Rock region, said the utility has not requested that customers save water.

In an email, Douglas Shackelford wrote that Central Arkansas Water has been able to keep up with demand.

"We were monitoring the system closely, and the breaks we did have over the past couple of days required us to open a couple of valves and produce water at the plant at a higher level than we normally would this time of year to keep the tanks full," Shackelford wrote. "Since our Ozark Point Plant is offline due to a large renovation project, the Wilson Plant handled the load. It is our largest plant however, and was never stressed from a production standpoint."

He said the coming days could see more water main breaks as the ground thaws, but added that the utility is monitoring the situation and has crews ready to respond as needed.

CORRECTION: The town of Damascus is located in Faulkner and Van Buren counties. An earlier version of this article left out one of the counties.