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I-Team: Dayton water issues raise concerns, questions among customers

Published: Monday, July 08, 2019 @ 6:30 PM

When the lights went out during the Memorial Day tornadoes, the City of Dayton water system went with it. No power for pumps meant no water to be treated and distributed to customers.

When the lights went out during the Memorial Day tornadoes, the City of Dayton water system went with it. No power for pumps meant no water to be treated and distributed to customers.

>> RELATED: Memorial Day tornadoes: 4-day water boil advisory ends for all

A News Center 7 I-Team investigation found the city did act quickly to recover, using the power generators it has on hand and calling for mobile generators from surrounding communities. 

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But some customers who lost water service during the storm want action. They have called on the city to take steps to fix the power problem before the next big storm hits. 

Kim Warmbein vividly remembers waking up the morning after the storm and walking to the bathroom, only to find there was no running water. 

"I was upset because I wanted to take a shower," Warmbein said. "I had never lost water like that, never."

What caught her off guard was that there was zero storm damage in her neighborhood, yet she was without water. 

"It was awful," she said. "We just kept trying to go to stores to find water and we bought cases of the gallon of jugs of water. It took two just to flush the toilet."

Documents obtained by the I-Team show the city made a formal request for backup power generators from other communities early Tuesday, May 28, at 2:37 am.

With their own backup power and the borrowed generators, a growing number of the pumps were put back in service as time went on.

>> Dayton water issues: 3 FAQs

Dayton City Manager Shelley Dickstein said some parts of the city were brought back on line soon after power was restored to one of the water treatments plants. 

She said it was a "24 to 48 hour disruption for most people." 

During the outage, Dickstein said having backup power for 100 percent of the system was not financially feasible for the city, costing millions of dollars.

City Commissioner Darryl Fairchild, who wants the water department to look for ways to improve performance, said he is reluctant to make major new investments if it would come at a cost to other services in the city. 

"Taking that capitol fund there and putting it into that means we are taking money from someplace else, maybe fire, police, neighborhood development, all of which have an impact on safety," Fairchild said.

Still, the city's biggest water customer is not satisfied. 

Montgomery County wants the city to have complete power backup for the entire system. 

In a letter to the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, the county's environmental services director, Patrick Turnbull, called the situation "dangerous and potentially deadly." 

Turnbull pointed to the likelihood that a similar water outage in the future would make it difficult to fight a major fire.

>> RELATED: Dayton Water Outage: 5 things you need to know

He was quick to point out that the outage after the tornadoes was the second major service interruption of the year. The first came with a large water main break in February. 

Turnbull said the county wants the city to spend the money required to ensure the system will still be operating at all times, even in a major storm that knocks out power. 

"For 15 or 20 million dollars, in that range, the city could have backup power at their plants and well fields so that should anything like this occur again in the future they would have backup generation," Turnbull said. "We at the county believe that would be a good investment."

The city so far has not moved to satisfy that request.

Initially, the county asked that the Ohio EPA mediate the dispute with the city over the power problems. Contamination issues are also a sticking point in the relationship between the city and county.

In response, the EPA declined the county's request, saying it did not have the authority or ability to mediate. The agency did say they would continue talking with the two sides.

>> Montgomery County: City water issues put community at risk

Turnbull said he remained optimistic that something could be worked out.

The county is currently in its second year of a 20-year contract with the city to provide water to the county for distribution to customers.