BY TIM BONFIELD
The Cincinnati Enquirer
Drinking-water treatment plants affected by the Flood of '97 are rapidly returning to normal operations. Yet boil-water advisories are expected to remain in effect for several days in many communities, as health officials make sure tap water is as clean as the water leaving the plant.
Most towns along the Ohio River have public water, but 37 systems in Kentucky and 13 systems in Ohio still had boil-water advisories Tuesday.
Concerns about water quality have been running high ever since the flood began.
Raw sewage has been flowing into the Ohio River from overloaded wastewater-treatment plants. Numerous toxic spills and leaks have been documented.
Tests of raw river water have shown bacteria counts 10 times higher than normal, but no bacteria problems have been found in treated water. Tests of drinking water also have not detected any high levels of toxic chemicals.
The flood had a slightly different effect on systems that depend on ground-water supplies. Many systems serving riverside communities reported well heads covered by the flood and various water main breaks that created low-pressure problems - situations that prompted officials to issue boil-water advisories.
However, water utility wells typically are sealed to prevent contamination. So far, tests at well heads and in distributions systems have shown no contamination. Still, state officials are waiting for more test results before lifting remaining boil-water advisories.
''Most of the advisories out there are precautionary. Random samples of distribution systems have all been clean so far. But we want to be safe rather than sorry,'' said Dan Cloyd, an environmental specialist with the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency.
In hard-hit Falmouth, Ky., virtually all the crew members of the local water plant lost their homes to the flood, but came to work anyway. It took five days to restore running water. It will take several more before officials say the water is safe to drink.
''It has been a complete catastrophe here. We've lost equipment, meters, gauges ... we haven't even started counting all the (water main) breaks,'' said plant engineer Mike Turner.
A preliminary damage estimate for the water system is $100,000 to $200,000, Mr. Turner said.