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Glenwood's Water Woes Show No End In Sight

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By Joel Stevens, Associate Editor

It’s been a little over a week since the water treatment plant south of Glenwood ceased operations due to rising flood waters.

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And just when the facility that supplies Glenwood and Pacific Junction with its water might re-open remains a mystery.

Last Monday, as historically high flood water began to surround the water treatment facility near Pacific Junction, Glenwood Municipal Utilities (GMU) shut down the facility and advised customers to restrict water use to indoor only and to cut water usage by 50 percent. A little over 24 hours later, GMU, along with Mills County Emergency Management, issued a “boil order.” The warning indicated residents were to boil water due to possible contamination but that it was safe for bathing and household activities.

A berm was constructed around the Glenwood water treatment facility in 2011 to protect it from rising flood waters that never quite reached the facility. But after federal officials deemed it a “temporary protective wall” later that summer, the berm was razed.

Since the boil ban and conservation effort went into effect, Glenwood residents and the Glenwood Community School District, have been stocking up on bottled water and the GMU and county have busily set about back-filling a dwindling water supply by tanker truck daily.

As of Friday, 420 residences had been displaced by the flooding that has ravaged the western quarter of the county, according to Mills County Public Information Officer Sheri Bowen. The flood waters and the lack of viable drinking water has forced another 20 businesses to shutter their doors.

According to Mills County Supervisor Lonnie Mayberry, the Glenwood area consumes 400,000 to 450,000 gallons of water per day this time of year. With Pacific Junction evacuated and its water completely shut off, the county has targeted approximately 300,000 gallons per day for Glenwood with the back filling.

“That’s an earmark figure. We’re doing all we can to maintain that,” Mayberry said.

Since Wednesday afternoon, Glenwood has been trucking in “non-potable” water from Red Oak and Shenandoah at a cost of $40,000 per day. From 6 a.m. to 11 p.m., between six to eight trucks a day have been making multiple round trips of 5,000-6,000 gallons each. The water is being transferred, via a Pacific Junction Volunteer Fire Department pump truck, into Glenwood’s reserves through a fire hydrant near Valley and Glenbrook Streets.

Mayberry admits itss an expensive, arduous process but necessary to maintain the water supply for Glenwood residents.
“People have to shower, people need to use the restroom,” Mayberry said. “As for cooking and drinking water, we’ll have to deal with that as it comes. We need to keep people in their homes and we have to try and keep the businesses running. That’s our main objective. We want to keep our town.”

The Glenwood Community School District sent emails to all district families on Monday night detailing its plan to keep school in session during the water crisis.

Since last Tuesday, all of the school’s four buildings have operated under no water or heavy water restrictions. All the schools have gone to bottled water consumption only and three of the four are using no public water at all. The fourth, Northeast Elementary is allowing their youngest students to use bathroom facilities with county approval while the remaining three schools are using portable toilet units the district brought in. In all, the school district has secured 80 portable toilets.

Superintendent Devin Embray said the district is consuming 175 cases, or about 4,200 bottles, of water per day. The district has approximately 2,000 students and 375 staff.

Red River Waste Solutions has contracted with the district to provide recycling services for the empty water bottles.

“We’re conserving everywhere we can and not flushing or using any GMU water at three of our buildings,” Embray said. “We’re one of the largest users in the system so we’re trying to do what we can to let the community have more water.”

The entirety of the district’s bottled water supply has been donated.

In the district’s cafeterias, the Iowa National Guard donated the use of 500 gallon tanks of potable-water for use in food preparation and washing dishes. The school’s have also transitioned to disposable lunch trays for the duration of the water shortage.

Nearly 80 students have been displaced by the Pacific Junction flooding. The district is working with those displaced families on transportation assistance and free meals.

During the 2011 flooding, Embray said, the district lost 153 students that never returned to the district.

Embray has vowed to keep the school open “as long as we have enough water.”

“We’ll sustain as long as we possibly can. If we run out of donations and don’t have water, we’ll shut school down,” he added. “We don’t have a choice at that point. As of now the generosity of people in the area, in the state, out of state, has been remarkable. We’re getting a lot of shipments in all the time.”

The district has already received semi-truckloads of bottled water from HyVee, Casey’s, Home Depot and multiple private trucking companies.

Bottled water is also available through the Mills County YMCA and the Mills County Storehouse at no charge. Late last week,

The county also has bottled water available for free to all residents. They continue to look at water options and literally “dig in” for what could be a long haul of no clean drinking water.

A county-contracted drilling crew attempted to dig a new well north of town near 221st Street and Gateway Drive to supply the county’s reserve water tower but it was determined late Wednesday the well would not produce enough water. A second well was drilled on Friday on a parcel of land the county had planned to build a new water tower near Lake Ohana. Testing on that water supply is underway but Mayberry said from all accounts, it looks like a “good well.”

“The flow and volume looks good,” Mayberry said. “If we can get this up and running water, back-filling our system, it should eliminate some of the need to truck in water and the burden it puts on the fire department.”

Mayberry estimated the new well could be operational this week, pending the water passing Iowa Department of Natural Resources testing.

What Mayberry isn’t sure about is just how long they will have to add water to keep up with demand but he did say as of now they are targeting a likely 30-day window.

“Our (water) plant is underwater right now,” he said. “Once it goes down, we have three or four wells down there that may be compromised. The pumps and motors may be filled with silt and sand. The electrical may be compromised.”

Once the mechanical issues are addressed, determining the condition of the inside of plant itself, and what needs to be cleaned and sanitized, is another process before tGMU can even “flip the switch to start making water,” Mayberry said.

“Everybody is working together,” Mayberry added. “This is a good team effort between the GMU, the county, fire (Glenwood and Pacific Junction), local people and landowners near where we’re pumping, they’re bringing out coffee and donuts and water for the guys.

“There’s strength in numbers and we have to all work together.”