Tennessee American Water Company said Monday that completed maintenance now provides sufficient redundancies to prevent future mass water outages in Chattanooga, following the company's largest outage in "modern history" that left some 35,000 connections without water for as long as three days in September.
A news release by the company seems to address concerns by current and past elected officials who raised old concerns for the company to create redundancies with other local utilities in case of a water break.
"Our commitment to customers is to provide safe, clean water service for health, comfort and fire protection, and we invest millions of dollars each year in infrastructure resiliency. The bypass project that was ongoing when the break occurred has been completed and is fully operational," the release states. "This bypass improvement is designed to continue service using other piping and avoid significant fluctuations or interruptions. These additional lines allow water to bypass, or divert, from one main transmission line to another transmission line. This gives us the ability to isolate large transmission lines in an effort to maintain water service."
In the release, the company also addressed the cause of the outage, saying again that a third party company will be hired to investigate the cause of the leak.
"Tennessee American Water is in the process of engaging an independent engineering firm to assist with the evaluation of the main break that occurred," the release said. "As we shared earlier, during the course of the planned work that was being performed that night as part of the bypass project, workers noticed a large amount of water beginning to surface at a location near but not part of the project. Specifically, the location where the water began to surface was under a concrete meter vault close to the site of the installation of a 36" valve. Our evaluation is on-going and we have not reached a conclusion as to the cause of the main break."
While details of cause and cost remain unknown, Tennessee American said in the release that a class-action lawsuit filed against the company after the outage likely will slow the information process.
"While we are committed to sharing with the community, we note that a lawsuit has been filed against Tennessee American Water asserting claims allegedly arising from the main break. This may impact our ability to comment on issues while we are simultaneously involved in this litigation," the release continued. "We thank the Chattanooga community for your patience and understanding during this evaluation process."
Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke said Monday that he was pleased the company was able to successfully complete the bypass project.
"However, we will continue to press for answers on the cause of the break and how Tennessee American plans to make an overall commitment to resiliency," he said in an emailed statement. "While we understand that this work won't necessarily prevent another break or outage, any redundancy work is a step forward. The city will continue to hold Tennessee American accountable for answers so we can keep Chattanoogans protected from another event of this scale again."
In response to Tennessee American's release, Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger said the county welcomes any improvements Tennessee American wants to do to the system and any improvements of that nature to any utility.
"They are a private company, so I can really just hope that redundancies are being considered — but it's hard to know much else until all of the information [about] what happened is known," Coppinger said.
Contact Sarah Grace Taylor at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6416. Follow her on Twitter @sarahgtaylor.