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Community cooperation helps city of Bryan avoid worst-case scenario during water emergency

A rusted valve at the city's water treatment plant was blocking water from entering the pipes. But for crews to fix it, residents had to cease water usage.

BRYAN, Ohio — Municipal water returned to the city of Bryan in full around noon on Wednesday after the city told residents Tuesday evening to stop using water due to a valve failure at the city's water treatment plant.

"We got calls that tower levels were dropping and we weren't able to push water into the system, so a few of us went over ... and we tried to figure it out," the city's director of utilities, Nathan Gardner, said.

During the stoppage on water usage, CHWC Bryan Hospital had its own sources of water, but other medical facilities like the Bryan Community Health Center attempted to make do for their patients as best they could while not using municipal water.

As the city leaders rushed to the plant, they quickly realized there were only two ways two diagnose and address the issue, and they both involved bringing the city's water flow to zero.

The first: de-pressurize the entire pipe system, which would take their water system offline for days.

The second solution was a gamble: order all citizens and businesses across the city to stop using water and trust that they would abide by the order.

With the water towers losing water quickly, the leaders leaned on their community to stop their water usage.

The effects were almost immediate. Businesses and organizations that rely on water were hit hard by the order to turn off the tap. Area giants like the Spangler Candy Company were affected, too.

"They were the start of that whole wave last night of shutting operations down, (Titan Tire Corp. of Bryan) shut down, we had a lot of our industries shut down for the first time," Mayor Carrie Schlade said.

At the Bryan Community Health Center, the effort to stop water usage also extended to things like restrooms and drinking fountains as staff put out-of-service signs up and requested distilled water from the Bryan Fire Department, center director Kim Rex said.

City leaders said the conservation efforts were necessary to help the utilities employees who worked all through the night into Wednesday morning looking for answers.

"It allowed us the time to basically fix the valve," Gardner said. "Once we found the problem, it really was a quick fix. I think within an hour, once we found and troubleshot to the exact problem, we turned everything on and it worked flawlessly."

The system was repaired, but the city had one more ask of its residents: a staggered approach to city water usage to not overburden the system.

"This story could have been a lot different if our community partners and ratepayers didn't stop using water," the mayor said. "So, because of them and this team, we were able to avoid those worst case scenarios."

Gardner said that the rusted valve in question has been replaced and fixed in a way to guarantee that the issue never arises again.

But with a rusted valve sitting inside their piping system risking the possibility, could the issue have been prevented?

Gardner claimed there was no way for them to know.

"The problem was this valve was on a dead end, it doesn't get exercised, and over time there was some rust buildup in it and it just let loose," he said. "So, we were losing pressure and basically the water was blowing back into our retention basin. It just was a weak spot in our system we were able to locate and we'll never have a problem with that again."

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