NEW CUMBERLAND - An emergency water conservation alert issued Thursday by the City of New Cumberland may be another sign that the city's sewer system is obsolete, officials said.
The alert was scheduled to be lifted by 6 a.m. today, Mayor Linda McNeil said.
City officials issued the alert on the "Heads Up Hancock" smartphone application shortly after noon Thursday when it became apparent that a pump at the city's vacuum station had broken, she said.
"It's just worn out. That's the best way I can describe it," said city water operator Pat Jones, who was at the vacuum station making repairs most of the day. "It wasn't pumping at all."
The pumps and the vacuum station, which sits adjacent to New Cumberland City Park, are part of the system that moves sewage from homes and businesses to the city's sewage treatment plant on the south side, Jones explained.
City leaders have been concerned for some time that the 80-year-old system will not be able to keep up with demand and that, at the same time, they won't be able to afford repairs.
"It's just like all the other cities around here - we're short on money," said Jones, who also is a city councilman.
Jones said the vacuum station is designed to run on two pumps but that it's been running on one for a long time. "It's old. It's just been a money situation all along," he said.
Residents were advised to "extremely reduce water usage" Thursday and early today because of problems with the sewage plant. Jones said the alert was necessary so as not to overly tax the system while repairs were being made.
Meanwhile, city officials are awaiting the results of a study of the sewer system by the engineering firm Herbert, Rowland & Grubic Inc., which has offices in Morgantown.
The firm was hired earlier in the summer after the city obtained a $30,000 grant with the help of the Brooke-Hancock-Jefferson Metropolitan Planning Commission, McNeil said.
"The results of this assessment should help us obtain grants to fix what is wrong with it," she said, noting that the study likely will take into account Thursday's pump breakdown and water alert.
New Cumberland City Council raised water and sewer rates last year in the hopes of making repairs and upgrades to both systems, and to service the debt on a 2009 loan.