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by Torie McCloy
Hauling water is something many Randolph County residents outside Elkins city limits are used to doing.
Iron and sulfur water plagues residents who would just like to turn on the faucet for a drink of clean water or those who want to do laundry without having to worry about orange iron stains.
Randolph County officials know getting clean water is a problem. So, they are doing something about it. Residents must be patient, they say, because it will take time and money.
"There is not a shortage of treated water, just a shortage of the piping to get it to (rural residents)," said Elkins Mayor Jim Hammond.
The large, rural county is only the second in the state to have completed a county-wide water resources assessment and implementation plan. The plan analyzed current and future water needs. The county's goal is to assure that every place in the county can get public water by the year 2020.
"We are way, way ahead in Randolph County," Hammond said. "We know how to do it and how much it will cost. We just need to get the money."
The county commission, along with the Randolph County Water Resources Committee and the Upper Tygart Valley Watershed Partnership joined forces on the plan after many Mill Creek residents complained about having to haul water to drink and clean clothing.
The Randolph County Health Department declared many residents' well water unclean and sometimes unsafe because of bacteria.
County Commissioner Judy Guye said that concerned officials. She said residents sometimes brought samples of their water in jars to the commission. Instead of being a sparkling clear, it often looked like tea.
The officials designed the county water plan with the help of MSES Consultants of Clarksburg. It maps out a way to get public water to rural residents.
"We wanted to be assured of a good water supply," Guye said.
Elkins City Council also is playing a role in the improvement of the county's water supply. The council recently financed a new $600,000 water reservoir tank to replace an old concrete tank that had started leaking. The old tank was built in two sections, the first part in 1896 and the second in 1922.
"It was deteriorated," Hammond said. "It had served its life. It was not unsafe, we were just concerned that it needed replaced."
Water workers were unable to fill the 1.5 million gallon water tank to the top for fear that the sides would collapse, Hammond said.
The new tank will be filled to capacity and can help the county's four public service districts out in case of a drought. The city tank supplies about 70 percent of the county's water. The four public service districts -- Midland, Norton-Harding-Jimtown, Leedsville and Huttonsville -- serve the rural areas.
The tank pumps seven hours each day to supply the needed 1.8 million gallons of water. It can be pumped 24 hours a day if needed, Hammond said. Annually, the tank pumps 660 million gallons of water.
Elkins City Council recently approved a 9.4 percent raise in the city's water rates to help pay for operating expenses of the water treatment plant. Less than two percent of the raise went to the financing of the water tank.
On average, the water rate hike is only an 87-cent increase per user. The last city water rate increase was in 1993.
"Making sure you have adequate drinking water when you turn on that tap is an expensive process," said Elkins City Clerk Phil Graziani, who spent six months working out the rate increase.
The rest of the money will be used for the rest of the water treatment process -- collection, purification, storage and distribution.
A new city water tank, however, is only one part of the overall plan to improve water in Randolph County.
A total of five water projects are under construction in the county's four public service districts.
A line extension in the Montrose area that is nearly complete will provide clean water to 95 residents. Most of those residents must filter their water before drinking it.
Guye said the tank, the projects and the comprehensive plan are a good sign.
"It shows that the city and county is working together to fix the problem," she said.
Although county and city officials are working on the problem, they said there is no overnight cure for the orange-staining iron, the rotten-egg smell of sulfur or the bacteria in the county's rural water supply.
Since the 22-year plan is a long way off, residents interested in getting clean water in rural areas in the near future are encouraged to get a petition signed by their neighbors and submitted to either the county commission or the local public service district.