When will the Mountaintop region have safe, reliable drinking water?

There’s a long road ahead, but the people on the mountain top may be one step closer to having safe, reliable drinking water.

On Monday night, the Mountaintop Regional Water Authority approved a corrective action plan for the water system, which was submitted to the state Department of Environmental Protection on Tuesday.

The water authority entered into a consent order and agreement with DEP in June, meaning it had to provide a plan to correct all the violations the agency identified in the order.

Those violations included having unmetered service connections, 60 percent or more unaccounted water loss, an inadequate supply of water and failing water lines. In the consent order, DEP said the water authority’s plan must include waterline replacement projects that will help reduce unaccounted for water down to 30 percent or less, repairs to failing water lines and finding another water source to supplement existing water sources.

What’s in the corrective action plan?

The water authority’s corrective action plan includes: placing meters along main service lines to monitor water flow and identify leaks, monitoring the existing groundwater sources over a three-year period and using data to analyze and evaluate which parts of the system need to be fixed, according to Ken Beldin, a civil engineer from the Altoona-based firm Gwin Dobson and Foreman, who is overseeing the corrective action plan.

Once the water authority has identified the problem areas of the system, it can determine where repairs or replacements need to happen and if it needs to find a new or supplemental water source.

“That’s a question mark right now,” Beldin said of finding a new water source. The authority’s goal, he said, is to get unaccounted water down from 60 percent to at least 30 percent by finding and fixing leaks. That will “help tremendously with supply.”

A solution to poor water quality?

In January, the water levels in the Snow Shoe and German Settlement tanks were at about three-thousandths of a percent of their total capacity — critically low. In addition to having to conserve water, residents of the Mountaintop region were under a boil water advisory because the water quality was so poor.

Brown water flowing out of a Mountaintop resident’s bathtub faucet, following work done by the water authority to fix leaks and install pressure reducing valves. Photo provided

But many residents said similar problems had been happening for years, and problems continued through this fall. In fact, the problems span more than a decade, dating back to issues with drilling and operating conventional gas wells and the fact that parts of the system are almost a century old.

The water authority serves about 1,300 homes and businesses in Burnside Township, Snow Shoe Township and Snow Shoe borough.

DEP still needs to approve the Mountaintop water authority’s corrective action plan, which it confirmed receipt of Tuesday.

“We definitely won’t know immediately upon receipt if it’s going to be approved,” said Megan Lehman, the community relations specialist for DEP’s Northcentral regional office. “Our Safe Drinking Water Program will perform a technical review.”

Jim Yost, chairman of the Mountaintop water authority, said that until the corrective action plan is approved, there isn’t a lot to say about the progress of the water system.

“We’ve done a lot (of work on the system), but we’re not sure if what we’ve done is gonna all be approved,” he said. But, he added, “We’re well on our way to meeting our goals, we believe.”

The authority has installed two meters on main waterlines already and put a data logger on an already existing meter. According to Beldin, the authority plans to install around six additional meters to monitor water flow over the next two years.

The water authority received one complaint this week, Yost said, and it was from a woman who said she had dirty water. Her water is clean now, and Yost said he didn’t know “why one house got dirty water.”

But, he said, Facebook has finally slowed down with comments from residents about the poor water quality on the mountain top.

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Sarah Paez covers Centre County communities, government and town and gown relations for the Centre Daily Times. She studied English and Spanish at Cornell University and grew up outside of Washington, D.C.