AP NEWS
Related topics

Barges Keep Water Flowing In Sistersville

January 14, 1988

SISTERSVILLE, W.Va. (AP) _ Clean water that had been stored on barges was pumped into Sistersville’s water system Thursday when the normal flow of Ohio River water was cut off by a giant oil slick that meandered down from Pittsburgh.

The plan to keep the water flowing appeared to be working ″remarkably well,″ said Mayor Lester Leach as a roaring diesel pump pushed nearly 1,500 gallons a minute up a 1,200-foot blue vinyl pipeline to the town’s water treatment plant.

″I’m tickled. It’s worked so well.″

Workers closed Sisterville’s water intake valves Wednesday night as the slick approached the town’s 19th-century water filtration plant. Workers began filling the town’s tank Thursday morning with water stored a day earlier on four, million-gallon barges parked near the plant.

″I think she’s going to be all right,″ said water superintendent Gene Patterson. ″We should only need to pump for about four hours a day to fill our tanks. We’ve got enough water in the barges to last 12 to 14 days.″

Patterson said officials from the state health department and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency were working to find a method to treat the smelly Ohio River water when pollution levels fall.

But that could take several weeks. Jeanne Ison, a spokeswoman for the Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission, said the leading edge of the spill was about four miles south of Sistersville, moving about one-half mile an hour.

She said sampling crews had found traces of the slick more than 80 miles north of Sistersville on Thursday near the New Cumberland Lock and Dam.

″It seems to speed up as it travels through the dams and then stagnates,″ said Ison, whose agency monitors pollution on the river.

She said officials had predicted the spill would reach Huntington, the next city downstream that uses the river for its water supply, on Jan. 27.

The oil gushed Jan. 2 into the Monongahela River, which feeds the Ohio, from a ruptured Ashland Oil Inc. storage tank near Pittsburgh. Water flow in three states was disrupted.

Sistersville’s reponse mimicked that up upstream Wheeling, which stopped taking in Ohio River water but did not have to shut down entirely, as some systems in Ohio and Pennsylvania did.

″We figured the worst was going to happen to us, a complete plant shutdown,″ said Wheeling city manager Mike Nau. ″It’s really nice to hear that things are working out for Sistersville.″

Meanwhile, Pennsylvania Fish Commission officials reported the fuel spilled into the Monongahela may have killed 10,000 fish and possibly many more, not the few thousand estimated earlier.

Commission investigator Gerald Greiner filed a report Wednesday raising the kill estimate to 10,000, but ″I’d say 10,000 is nothing,″ compared to the actual kill, said Thomas Qualters, regional law enforcement supervisor based in Somerset.

″These are the fish that he’s seeing. Gerry Greiner has been on the river since day one,″ Qualters said. ″The vast majority of the fish that are dead or dying are probably on the bottom,″ where fish linger in cold weather.

The estimate covers only the Monongahela and the Ohio River to the Pennsylvania border. A more accurate estimate must await the commission’s spring census.