ERT and Field Staff “Neither rain, nor snow, nor sleet….”

The Department for Environmental Protection’sERT
Environmental Response Team (ERT) and the Division of Water’s (DOW) regional office staff are no strangers to working in the elements, although the past few weeks of winter storm with its uncharacteristic cold and deep snow presented some challenges. Not only did responses to routine environmental emergencies continue, but the weather contributed significantly to others.

Routine responses, such as transportation accidents and spills, underground storage tank incidents, and spills from oil production, only increased in frequency due to the weather. Response times increased and cleanups have been hampered by the weather, some of them delayed until snow and ice melt.

The worst victims of this winter storm are many Kentucky drinking water facilities and their customers, mostly located in the central and eastern part of the state. This required a sustained response from the London, Hazard, Morehead and Frankfort regional offices as many as 36,000 households were without drinking water during the record low temperatures and snowfall from February 23 – 27, 2015. Drinking water outages were the result of main breaks, intake blockages, pump failures and power outages.

In affected areas, DOW and ERT members have worked long hours with Transportation Cabinet, Kentucky Rural Water Association and the Kentucky Department for Emergency Management’s (KYDEM) to assess supply shortages and to determine the number of customers impacted by water outages and Boil Water Advisories and provide alternate water sources to these areas with critical shortages to the most basic of human needs. The numbers reported through the DOW regional offices were used to inform the KYDEM decisions regarding the deployment of resources including the distribution of bottled water to customers.

The record snowfall on March 4-5, 2015 and subsequent rain resulted in additional drinking water distribution disruptions as well as flooding throughout Kentucky.  As a result, DOW regional offices re-started protocols for reporting to KYDEM regarding drinking water systems that continued to be challenged by weather conditions as well as wastewater treatment facilities impacted by flood water.  Regional offices contacted affected drinking water and waste water facilities daily to quantify drinking water outages and Boil Water Advisories as well as to identify power outages, wastewater plants inundated with flood water, plants out of operation, and damages to system infrastructure. Daily contact with these facilities, technical assistance and reporting to KYDEM continued through March 11, 2015.