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Wartrace faces water crisis again

Posted on Wednesday, February 28, 2024 at 8:00 am

Many residents on the water system did not “heart” Wartrace the week prior due to major water outages and main breaks. (Photo by Zoe Watkins)


Starting on the weekend of Feb. 17, residents on Wartrace’s water system faced unexpected water shutdowns, leaving homeowners waterless for hours or days on end.

Water main breaks and issues were reported on Highway 64, Mt. Olivet, Higgins, Philippi, Horse Mountain and Railroad roads to name a few. A boil water notice was applied on Feb. 20 and lifted on Feb. 22—raising concern for the elderly and the immunocompromised.

On Thursday, during a Wartrace Board of Mayor and Alderman Study Session, residents crowded the room and hallway of Wartrace’s community center to voice their questions and frustrations.

Wartrace Mayor Brian Ross attempted to dismantle some of the “misinformation” he said floated through the annals of social media during the week.

Primarily, Ross attacked any rumors that the town had grant money to fix the water system but was not utilizing it.

“We love grants, so there’s no reason to go after them and no reason not to apply,” he said.

Ross went on to explain the town had been awarded an American Rescue Plan (ARP) grant but had not received the funds yet because they are “still in the stages of preparing for it.”

“Government is not fast; it’s a slow-process,” said Ross.

However, once those monies are received, Ross said it will go to purchasing more meters.

They were also rewarded the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) which will solely go into the city’s sewer system.

Ross then explained why the system cannot go back to Cascade Springs, which most people agree tasted better as well as was more cost-effective. Currently, Wartrace buys their water from Tullahoma.

“Going back to the springs is only changing our source but not solving our problem of infrastructure. Our problem is the amount of lines we have, the understaffing, and years of lack of maintenance and mapping of our system,” said Ross.

Since the springs were condemned around 2010 by the State of Tennessee, Ross added that the town would need to build a water treatment plant in the range of $5 – $10 million.

Ross also tackled the rumor that the town has no plan in place to improve the water system.

“We do have a plan and that is to install zone meters that will help monitor segments of our water that will help isolate things quicker, which in turn will help improve our resolution time,” he said.

For water manager Jeremy Garrett, trying to isolate leaks in Wartrace’s expansive and aging water system is a major hindrance.

“The last six days have been hell, and you all have been a part of that,” said Garrett.

“System mapping does need to improve,” said Garrett. “Our mapping showed there were certain valves that we could not find.” For example, many valves could have been paved over while leaks start under streams or fields, making it difficult for crews to find them.

Because Wartrace’s system is so expansive, those living in the rural parts have to pay more for water since there are more pipes to take care of, according to Garrett. The minimum fee for residents in the Wartrace is $25 but hikes up to $50 for those living out of the city limits. Many people at the meeting reported having to pay $100 to $150 per month for water for a regular household.

“Over the last week, our water system has tested all of our patience from both our customers and the ones that we manage. We have done our best to communicate these breaks, outages, and their effects,” said Ross.

However, communication — or lack thereof — was a major concern for the citizens that showed up during public comments.

In addition to phone calls and emails, the Town of Wartrace frequently updated their Facebook page to report major outages or leaks as well as receive feedback from residents. But many say this isn’t enough since everyone doesn’t have social media.

Last year Ross said they implemented a “Code Red” program, which would communicate issues to customers.

“But, for whatever reason, it was not set up completely to communicate. We are researching and finding out why,” said Ross.

Wartrace has also been discussing implementing a better “After Hours Answering Service.”

“We have researched and investigated and there are not a lot of customer service businesses that we have found as of yet that will suit our particular needs. We agree that something has to change with that service and it will for the better. We ask for additional time to accomplish this,” said Ross.

“This town is a municipality, a local government, and also a form of business. We distribute water; we are a water utility. It is our goal to serve our residents, neighbors, and our communities to the best of our ability.”