The City of Asheville decommissioned the East Asheville Booster Pump Station in 2010, and it has not been in use since then. It was designed and built in 1992-1993, and in 2010 the city found it needed extensive repair or refurbishment "before even being able to enter into discussions about bringing (it) back online and the costs associated." // Watchdog photo by John Boyle

A former city of Asheville water director — who was also a member of the Independent Review Committee that investigated the holiday water outage — says the city is overlooking the key to the crisis, and another major service disruption could happen if it’s not addressed.

Mike Holcombe, water director from 1993-1997, remains adamant that the city is downplaying what he says is the major cause — the decommissioned East Asheville Booster Pump Station. That multi-million dollar facility opened in 1993 and closed in 2010. The city has little documentation as to why it was shuttered.

The pump station was designed to boost water flow during high demand. The outage, which the city primarily pinned to two closed valves and the frozen Mills River water plant, spanned 11 days over the Christmas holidays, shuttered businesses, and left thousands without water.

Holcombe, a south Asheville resident, lacked water for five days.

Former Asheville Water Director Mike Holcombe is convinced the decommissioned East Asheville Booster Pump Station would have prevented the holiday water outage that spanned 11 days in December 2022 and early January 2023. // Watchdog photo by John Boyle

“I have no hesitation — and believe I could defend in whatever forum I had to — that the absence of the pump station was 85 or 90 percent of the problem,” Holcombe said. “The closed 24-inch valve, it was a problem, but if you’d had the pump station operational, you would’ve discovered that problem a lot quicker, because you would have been pumping against a closed valve.”

In its official report, the IRC said three major factors played roles in the outage, including a closed 24-inch valve in the River Arts District and another that was open only 10 percent. The freeze-up of the city’s Mills River water plant in northern Henderson County, one of three facilities providing water to the city, was another key, the IRC said.

Holcombe believes that assessment is misleading. He cited a study conducted for the IRC last spring by a city consultant, Hazen Engineering, that showed what the projected water flow rates would have been during the crisis if the booster pump station had been in use.

“Incontrovertible evidence was provided to the City Council in the form of the attachments to the Hazen engineering report, which indicate that had the East Asheville Booster Pump Station been running, there would not have been any water system outage during Christmas 2022,” Holcombe said, who is critical of what he says is the city’s lack of transparency on the matter.

Those flow rates and modeling have not been made publicly available.

If the Mills River water plant were to go out of service again, the city could be vulnerable, Holcombe says. Holcombe is so passionate about the topic he’s started a Facebook page about the East Asheville Booster Pump Station and why it’s so crucial.

The IRC report called for a preliminary engineering study of the pump station to determine what would be needed to return it to service for “system redundancy during emergency events and future demand.” Water Resources Department Director David Melton initially said the preliminary engineering study could take 18 months, a timeframe that Holcombe believes isn’t quick enough.

‘To a certain extent, I would agree with Mike Holcombe’

The North Fork Reservoir near Black Mountain, with a capacity of 31 million gallons per day, is the city’s main water source. Nearby Bee Tree’s capacity is 5 million, and Mills River can produce 7 million gallons a day, according to the city’s annual water report.

The nine-member IRC, which included Holcombe and two other water experts, issued its report in June.

“The failure to locate the suspected closed 24-inch transmission valve in the River Arts District, possibly closed since April 2018, proved to be a major contributor to the event,” the report said. The water department was told about the closed valve nearly a year before the outage but failed to find it, Asheville Watchdog previously reported.

The IRC report noted the water system experienced unusually high demand when the problems began on Christmas as the temperature plunged to near zero. More than two dozen city water lines, as well as scores of customer-owned lines, broke. But water utilities are designed to handle water line breaks, Holcombe said.

“The thing people need to understand about water line breaks is, that is normal business at a lot of utilities,” Holcombe said. “So you go and you valve it off where the break is…and it doesn’t affect anything else. It doesn’t affect supply.”

Ted Tyree, an engineer with the Knoxville, Tenn., water utility and a member of the IRC’s Water Systems/Operations subcommittee, previously told The Watchdog the breaks likely would have left just a few hundred people out of water. The closed valves were key, Tyree said, because the city couldn’t get customers enough water once Mills River went down.

Asked about Holcombe’s assertions, Tyree said the committee “wanted to land on a consensus” for the city and the mayor in its official report, so it “stopped short of recommending staff bring that pump station back.”

But under “immediate recommendations,” the IRC report states the city should:

“Evaluate the existing pumps at the East Asheville Booster Pump Station, by inspection and with pump tests, for the purpose of producing an EABPS Preliminary Engineering Report, detailing what will be needed to refurbish the EABPS and return it to useful service for system redundancy during emergency events and future demand.”

“It [the crisis] shouldn’t have been anywhere near the magnitude it was,” Tyree said previously.

The IRC described the outage as “avoidable and preventable.”

“I think the magnitude and duration was what was largely avoidable,” Tyree told The Watchdog.

“To a certain extent, I would agree with Mike Holcombe,” Tyree said. “But also, that’s not a cheap fix for staff, and they have done some significant piping improvements over the course of the years.”

The easiest, quickest fix identified was to get a valve assessment team in place to make sure all key valves are open, as the closed valves “would’ve alleviated much of the event,” Tyree said. The IRC also recommended better freeze-proofing at Mills River and communications improvements.

“With the pump station, I think where Mike is right is, yes, it would have helped, even with the valves closed,” Tyree said. “But there’s a price for that — I know all water utilities are not flush with money. You’ve got to make decisions about prioritizing improvements, so where do you get the biggest bang for the buck?”

The 2019 Hazen Engineering report put the potential cost of reinstating the station at a “few hundred thousand dollars,” Tyree said, adding “I think it’d be closer to seven figures or more.”

Tyree and fellow IRC members Keith Webb and Mike McGill made presentations at the June 13 City Council meeting. While not scheduled to speak, Holcombe told the council the booster pump station was the key to the outage.

Once the Mills River plant came online in 1999, the East Asheville Booster Pump Station, pictured above, went into standby mode, former Water Director Mike Holcombe said. // Watchdog photo by John Boyle

The $3.5 million booster pump station went into service in the 1992-93 time frame, according to the IRC report, and it “enables the full combined capacity” of 36 million gallons a day from the North Fork and Bee Tree plants. 

Holcombe said in the four years he was water director, the station, designed to come on when pressure in the Haw Creek junction dropped below 200 pounds per square inch, probably did so “less than a dozen times.”

“And a couple of those times were major fires, which is another reason you need the pump station,” Holcombe said. 

Once the Mills River plant came online in 1999, the pump station went into standby mode, he added.

City has no sense of urgency, Holcombe says

Holcombe also criticizes the city’s sense of urgency in looking to restore the booster station.

Asheville Mayor Esther Manheimer is aware of Holcombe’s campaign to get the station back online.

“Of course this council supports the recommendations of the IRC and moving ahead with the study,” Manheimer said. “I assume Mike wants it faster.”

Manheimer, who was first elected to City Council in 2009 and became mayor in 2013, said she doesn’t know why the booster station was taken off line.

Asheville City Councilmember Maggie Ullman // Photo credit: City of Asheville

City Council member Maggie Ullman said she’s glad the city is considering the feasibility of reopening the booster station. She wants to see how the station fits in today’s water system, what it would cost to restart and its benefits. And she offered a caveat.

“Theoretically, it could bring a solution and some practicality to the system, but you just don’t turn on a truck that hasn’t run in 10 years and it’s going to run beautifully,” Ullman said. “That’s the question I have.”

Holcombe said the station’s pumps were designed to last 100 years.

Ullman is skeptical the booster pump being down was the main cause of the outage. 

“The speculation on this that it was the silver bullet, I think that’s not what the report said,” Ullman said. “It said it was a piece of the puzzle, so to over-exaggerate it as a silver bullet is not in service to us moving forward effectively.”

Concerns about transparency, too

Holcombe also has concerns about the city’s transparency, saying key parts of a Hazen Engineering report given to the city, specifically modeling reports on water flow related to the pump station, were not included in publicly released documents.

The city previously denied The Watchdog’s request for the Hazen attachments, citing security concerns regarding disclosures of locations of key water equipment.

Holcombe said he was surprised and disappointed the full reports weren’t made public. He understood they were supposed to be released once sensitive information was redacted from the report, he said.

City Attorney Brad Branham maintained those modeling reports cannot be made public because of security concerns.

City Attorney Brad Branham // Credit: City of Asheville

“The only portion of this that was fully redacted were the modeling exhibits,” Branham said via email. “Specifically, they contained considerable information protected from public record production due to sensitive security information. However, the full executive summary of the report was produced at that time.”

The IRC and City Council received the reports in their entirety. Members of both bodies had to sign non-disclosure agreements, the city said.

Holcombe also said, and Tyree confirmed, that the IRC could not get any documents or paperwork explaining why the city chose to decommission the booster pump station.

“There’s not a single piece of paper written down documenting the retirement of the East Asheville Booster Pump Station,” Holcombe said. “We asked for it. Not a piece of paper — no email, no report.”

Holcombe said he thinks the city found the station unnecessary after the Mills River plant came online.

Holcombe also criticized the water department for saying the preliminary engineering report could take as long as 18 months.

The city disputes Holcombe’s assertions

City of Asheville spokesperson Kim Miller provided answers to The Watchdog’s questions on behalf of the Water Resources Department. Melton, the water director, has declined interview requests from The Watchdog.

Eighteen months is a “rough estimate” and it “encompasses the many steps in the entire process from identifying the scope of work to issuance of a final report,” the city said.

The city cited the language in the IRC’s recommendation that a “preliminary evaluation report” be done regarding the booster pump station.

“It is important to note that the recommendation made by the full IRC was to evaluate what would be needed to return it to service,” the city said. “City of Asheville staff are now working to implement the recommendation as suggested by the full Independent Review Committee.”

The city said its engineering staff conducted an analysis of the booster pump station, which it refers to as “the EABPS,” as recently as Sept. 11. Among other findings, It concluded:

“While it may have been true that in 1992 the EABPS was required to get additional flow from the two eastern water treatment plants into the system, assertions that in the present, without the pump station, our system is limited to 25 million gallons a day from the eastern water plants or our total safe yield is reduced by 6 million gallons a day is simply not factual.”

This photo shows the sedimentation basins at the city of Asheville’s Mills River water plant in 2019. Key parts of the plant froze up at Christmas 2022, contributing to the widespread water outages in the southern part of Buncombe County. // City of Asheville photo.

Holcombe takes issue with that. The booster station allowed for the expansion of service from the North Fork water plant from 25 million gallons a day to 31 million. Combined with the Bee Tree plant, this gives a combined capacity of 36 million gallons.

But that’s “only if it can be introduced into the transmission/distribution system at adequate pressure,” Holcombe said.

“When operational, the sole purpose of the EABPS was to take advantage of the full 36 million gallon-per-day treatment plant capacity from these water treatment plants,” he said. “Unless there has been an investment to improve the hydraulic capacity of the transmission lines between North Fork/Bee Tree and Haw Creek Junction, only through the operation of the EABPS can these volumes of water be delivered.”

“City staff operated North Fork and Bee Tree during the outage and still could not refill the water storage reservoirs in South Buncombe and Candler Knob,” Holcombe said. “The EABPS operation would have prevented the storage reservoirs’ depletion.”

The city noted that design of the pump station started in 1992.

“We are over 30 years removed from the water system conditions that were present and considered in the design of EABPS,” the water department said. 

The city has conducted “substantial capital investments” on the water system, with infrastructure improvements each year. The city pointed to a $40 million bond project dating to 2007, which in part included the installation of 47,000 feet of 24-inch transmission mains, replacing mostly 12-inch lines.

The scope of the recommended preliminary engineering report “should not be limited to just assessing what is needed to repair the pump station to its condition prior to its decommissioning,” the water department said. “To do so would be a massive oversight and borderline negligence, given the changes to the water system since 1992 when the pump station was designed.”

The water department “must consider needed pumping capacity for current and projected future conditions and pump size variation for increased operational control, which may make the pump station more useful than just in times of emergency.”

“We also must consider alternative locations of the pump station as it may or may not be in the optimal location today, given the changes to the water system over the past 30 years since its original design,” the water department said.

Holcombe says the department’s call for a reassessment of the station’s location “points to a total lack of understanding of how crucial the pump station is in permitting North Fork to produce all the water that it was designed for.”

Holcombe noted that Hazen, in a 2019 analysis of the city’s system, “specifically identified the existing site as being the most cost-effective,” and the IRC agreed with that assessment. Tyree, the engineer with the Knoxville water utility, said Hazen’s assessment took into consideration that average daily demand is predicted to hit about 30 million gallons around 2028.

An assessment of the pump station system was conducted in 2009, the water department said.

“At that time it was determined extensive repair or refurbishment would be needed to the system,” the water department said. “That would need to take place before even being able to enter into discussions about bringing (it) back online and the costs associated. 

In 2015, the city brought in Rockwell Automation to evaluate the station’s electronic systems, the city stated. Rockwell’s recommendations said: “These drives are 23 years old and have been obsolete for at least 14 years. Rockwell Automation no longer supplies parts for this product. These drives should be replaced with updated units that will enable parts and service for future years.” 

Also, Rockwell no longer had product engineers with knowledge of the system.

You have to ‘hydraulically jam’ water into the system

Holcombe, who earned a degree in business administration from Appalachian State University, started working for the city in 1978 as an account clerk in the accounting department. A year later he became a planning and research director, a senior level position assisting then Water Director William DeBruhl. 

Holcombe became director of the water department in September 1993 and served in that role until September 1997. He stepped down as director for health reasons, but stayed with the city to oversee construction of the Mills River water facility. Holcombe left city employment in 1999.

Holcombe was integrally involved in the construction of the booster pump station. Located in a sizable brick building off Riceville Road, the East Asheville Booster Pump Station today sits behind a locked gate with a “No trespassing” sign.

In the early 1990s, Holcombe said, with system demand rising and the city operating two reservoirs and attached water plants, more capacity was needed. Mills River was not on the horizon then, and the pump station was the best answer.

North Fork had extra water, but it had to be pushed into the system.

“You can’t get that extra water into the system unless you hydraulically jam it in there during periods of high demand,” Holcombe said. “You have to have it, and the 6-million-gallon expansion would not have happened unless we had the pump station there to get it into the system.”

The Christmas outage was exactly what the pump station was designed for — high demand caused the pressure at Haw Creek junction to drop, which would have triggered the pump station to come on and raise the pressure at Haw Creek junction and would have kept the key water tanks full.

Had that happened, “the South Buncombe tank would have stayed half full,” Holcombe said. “The Candler Knob tanks would have declined by two feet. No one would have known that there was a problem at Mills River, and everyone would have had a very Merry Christmas and a very happy new year.”

Asheville Watchdog is a nonprofit news team producing stories that matter to Asheville and Buncombe County. John Boyle has been covering Asheville and surrounding communities since the 20th century. You can reach him at (828) 337-0941, or via email at To show your support for this vital public service go to

24 replies on “Former Asheville Water director: ‘Incontrovertible evidence’ that shuttered pump station was key to water outage”

  1. It’s difficult to understand why the residents of Asheville accept such terrible leadership. You’d think they would be all over addressing the water issues but here we are talking about it just like everything else. Meanwhile, our downtown stores are still cleaning up human excrement, picking up needles and replacing plate glass windows. The city of Asheville has no concern for its businesses or residents.

    1. Absolutely , we must clean the slate and rid our city leaders. They continue to destroy our foundations . Seems like voting isn’t enough, we should protest this down fall in the cities leadership!

  2. The article made me think of the expression “The perfect is the enemy of the good.” If we were designing a new water system from scratch, we would want to spend a lot of time in study, design, financing, and construction. But we aren’t–we are looking to address issues with the present system with an eye toward present and future needs. I hope that we resist the temptation to make things perfect when present needs, in light of the events of Christmas, are so apparent.

    Earlier this year a highly readable book was published which is relevant to the big projects that the City of Asheville and Buncombe County are facing: “How Big Things Get Done,” by Bent Flyvberg and Dan Gardner. Flyvberg has spent decades studying big projects around the world and what makes them succeed, but more often fail. I highly recommend it.

  3. And here we are, three months away from a possible Round 2 — Going to start stocking water gallons into my garage.

  4. On May 9, 2023, and while the Independent Review Committee (IRC) was in the middle of its review efforts, City Council quietly (through Consent Agenda) approved a different project that was also identified in the same 2019 Hazen study referenced in this article.

    Interestingly, this “other” project was approved for “fast tracking” of the engineering work (at substantial additional cost). Clearly, this “other” project by nature of its’ timing of approval was prioritized over any of the other IRC recommended projects.

    It is not known whether the IRC was ever made aware of this project approval, but no mention was made in their final report.

    This quietly approved project involves construction a new South Buncombe Pump Station as well as potential replacement of up to 2 miles of 12” water piping along Sweeten Creek Road. (Keep in mind that several of the very large breaks that occurred early in the Christmas 2022 outage were off Sweeten Creek. Also, 12” piping is actually considered the low end of transmission piping; that is it is designed to carry much greater water volumes. Breaks on transmission piping are much more of a challenge to system).

    The project will also provide a hydraulic buffer for pump surges in order to eliminate pressure spikes within the zone which will “reduce line breaks” and reduce pressures in areas where higher system pressure is not required. (Operation of this pump station was impacted by the Mills River shutdown and restarts were required during the event).

    Mr. Holcombe is quite correct on his assertion of the importance of the East Asheville Pump Station and his “concerns about the city’s transparency” are not unfounded.

    Anyone closely following the entire Independent Review Committee “sham” has to know that.

  5. As was said by Mike Holcombe, the city leadership has no Sense of Urgency and lacks total Transparency. Just look at how long downtown Asheville was ransacked, trashed, and molested before any meaningful action was taken. And to Not explain why the City Manager was rehired for two more years is reprehensible.

  6. It’s clear that between the city manager and the city water director, we have people employed by the public and paid by the public who don’t understand the concept of accountability of “public officials.”

  7. Our City Manager and City Council are failing to provide the most important infrastructure needs. Water & Public Safety. This city feels like it is barely hanging on by a thread. We are on the verge of becoming a Banana Republic. Addicts and mentally ill people are in our streets everywhere, the police are overburdened with real crime calls and cannot get to petty crime any longer and a water system that could bust again. Stop electing the dreamers. Good article!

    1. The current water director is a part of the committee investigating what caused the water debacle?! He was part of the problem as was the mayor and absentee county and city managers that could have cared less because it didn’t effect their homes or businesses. The City of Asheville has been run into the ground with the current leadership. Asheville used to be a friendly and lovely place to live with the historical paths and little statutes around town showing our town’s history.
      Now it’s nothing but an eyesore that allows out of state demonstrators to dismantle our fair city and city officials denying our police officers to arrest anybody. This is what happens when we get folks from out of the area into leadership positions. If they want Asheville to be like where they came from, they should just leave and go back where they came from (Charlotte) and other cities.
      The crime rate is through the roof, it’s not a safe place to visit or shop and even churches have body guards for their congregations.
      We need strong law and order and to get our history back and get rid of the folks that want to change Asheville to make it like where they came from. Ya’ll just need to go back from where you came, because we don’t want you here and we don’t need you here. There was more stores broken into just a day ago.
      Bring back our police force. Give them back their horses and bikes and patrol cars.

  8. Maybe it’s time to let the TDA take over the water system. Their workload is so light that the director can take 6 weeks of vacation each year.

  9. I think the scary part will be that when a cold snap is forecasted, a lot of people will run out to grab water causing a shortage from people overstocking. It would only be natural to, of course. Any one who had no water for long periods will have no confidence in the system working. I had asked the question, back when this happened , if the city/county had pallets of water stored anywhere in a warehouse in case of a water emergency that could be distributed. If I remember correctly, water distribution by the city was neither organized or consistent. I hope that the city/ county have learned a lesson and are now prepared to have large amounts of water stashed away in case of a repeat of last winter. That would be prudent.

  10. Sounds a bit like this Mike Holcombe “expert” who’s been out of the business for 25+ years has an ax to grind.

  11. When I was working in radio news at WWNC and Kiss-FM during the 1990’s, Mike Holcombe was director of Water Resources for the City of Asheville. I never had difficulty of getting him for an interview when there were major outages or other newsworthy stories regarding water service. He was available to answer questions on all matters, favorable and unfavorable. I find it hard to believe that the current director, or the City Manager is declining to be interviewed on this topic. That’s part of the job. You can’t just make yourself available for ribbon cuttings for city projects. You have to answer tough questions when there’s a crisis.

  12. The pumps three of them if I recall correctly at EAPS are worn out. The city ran them and ran them for years and didn’t do any maintenance like switching them out.
    The pumps probably are $100k each under this inflation. The scada control system probably needs to upgrade who knows what elseis hiding in there. I’d say a million would do it. For what’s it’s worth I agree the pump station would of helped pressurize the system but it was ran into the ground in fact that was the city way. No looking forward at all it was run it till it breaks.

  13. The depth of fact reporting here allows me to agree with Ullman and Mannheimer. The offline EABPS is one of several causes of the outage, along with the closed valves and the frozen Mills River plant. Seems like addressing any one of these would likely have prevented the problem, and I agree with the leadership that getting the booster pump back online is not the most achievable or cost effective option. Yes, if it had been operational the system failure would have been minor, but you can say the same thing about the valves and freeze-up. Mr. Holcombe does seem to have an axe to grind.

  14. I don’t know, sounds like someone wants to spend money on a pump station project and is planting the seed.
    I think someone should look into the winterizing procedure at the main pump station and see if it was properly done before writing a check.

  15. The water outage disrupted the lives and businesses of countless customers, and should be taken as an opportunity to make improvements to facilities and operations to reduce risk and damage in the future.
    As a point of clarification, I became the Director of Water Resources in 2009. At that time the EB pump station was already abandoned, the control system was out-of-date, the pumps had not been operated for years, and the waterlines allowing the diversion of water to the pump station were problematic due to valve settings, rust and sedimentation in the lines.
    As of 2009, there may have been a prior study of the pump station, but it was not in 2009, and I was not provided a copy of a relevant study. The addition of the Mills River Water Treatment Plant was a major game-changer to the hydraulics of the system. Changes to the water distribution system did not justify the expenditure of funds to renovate the EB pump station.
    I cannot comment on the closed or partially closed valves in the system. Before leaving the City, I pushed for a hydraulic study of the water distribution system (Hazen and Sawyer Engineers) which has resulted in several major improvements to the system. One project envisioned was a new and improved South Asheville pump station with valving to direct water in different directions as needed. Based on Hazen’s evaluation, that project remains a good idea. Temperatures reached -5 degrees on the valley floor (colder at higher elevations) and these temperatures definitely affected the function of the water system as well as other public and private facilities.
    The outage was an unfortunate and disruptive event. It provided an illustration of the importance of a sound, secure water system to society at large. Rather than cutting funding (elimination of capital improvement fees), the system needs funding for the installation and maintenance of new infrastructure improvements as shown by this event. The system serves over 180 square miles both inside and outside the City limits and is a complex system to manage with approximately 40 pump stations and thousands of valves.
    I viewed Mike Holcombe’s opinions with dismay during the three years of discussions about the fate of the water system as it related to a legislative push to orchestrate a MSD takeover. Being 24 years removed from the system operations, Mike can no longer be considered an expert of the Asheville system.
    The City attorney is correct that specific water system information is a security concern in our age of vandals and terrorism. Federal regulations dictate the preservation and secrecy of certain information.

    1. Steve, with all due respect to your signficant and professional work as Director and involvement in the AWWA, I have the following comments/opinions.

      1) I believe Mike Holcombe is absolutely correct in his assertions about the importance of bringing back the East Asehville Pump station…..IF we want to provide an additional layer of system reliablity for future high demand situations like what occurred last year. Anything over 30 MGD is going to present problems feeding the outlying areas. And while one can take credit for the Mills River contribution to the south, there are more vulnerabilities with that plant that have not been addressed….such as potential flooding of the main intake pumps on the Mills River, lack of significant raw water storage, and others. And based on recent past poor operations (2021 flooded basement due to improper equipment tagout caused $1.7M+ restoration costs and significant out-of-service time and of course last year’s failure), I wonder when the next forced shutdown at Mills River occurs.

      2) The problem of course is money, the City (really Manheimer) refuses to get aggressive with greater operational and capital funding which would require higher water rates. Higher water rates would essentially require lesser spending in other city areas since water rates and property taxes both represent fiancial burdens to Asheville citizens. And Manheimer wants to fund other stuff, which from my perspective is a whole lot less important than reliable and safe water.
      And the big problem, as you know, we can’t charge more for water outside the city (unlike most every other city in the state) even though the most expensive part of the water system exists in the county. So we are artificially constrained to lower rates and a poorly operated system.

      While good progress has been made in the last decade with respect to important improvements, it is my professional opinion that we are still woefully behind the curve in both operational excellence and infrastucture health.

      I don’t believe anyone that has studied this past outage can refute that claim. It simply shouldn’t have happened both from an operational standpoint as well as infrastructure failures (major pipe breaks less than 24 hours into the freeze).

      3) I don’t know Mike Holcomb’s position on the past push for MSD takeover of the water system, but I presume based on your comment that he supported it. Regardless, I personally would strongly support that move; after looking backward at that effort and reviewing the compreshensive studies conducted. Combining water and sewer managment under one roof makes total economic sense with large efficiency gains ….and virtually every other smart city has done it. Of course the City (Mainheimer again), vehemntly opposed this because, yes, she would lose her desired control of water rates.

      4) I wouldn’t be surprised if there was NO formal 2009 study mentioned by the city. In my Public Records requests, no such study was provided. As you were Director then, surely you would have been aware.

      5) On the security front, I can tell you in my experience, the City over utilizes this to block or slow down transparency.

      6) It sounds as though you have a bit of an axe to grind with Mr. Holcombe with your comment about “Mike can no longer be considered an expert of the Asheville water system”. The system has not changed that much over the past decade or too, such that basic hydraulic operation is markedly different. In fact, anyone with a decent technical background can learn this system pretty quickly with existing on-line information and past records.

  16. Duke power should also be held accountable the rolling blackouts cause pipes to free and bust in a lot of buildings. Why wasn’t there enough generating capacity in what wasn’t that big of a cold event. It was the holidays and businesses were closed for the most part.

  17. Overall, I found the Independent Review Committee report to be informative and thorough. The recommendations for corrective action were very useful in understanding the December ’22 incident.

    1. Steve, again with all due respect to your prior service as Director of the water department, I cannot disagree more.

      The IRC was never going to be a truly “independent” review. It was designed by Manheimer to “assuage” the public that a “comprehensive” and “independent” review of the outage would be conducted since the 2022 outage was yet another serious breach of the public trust in the water system. “Independent” to me means with NO influence from the City. They even found 3 Professional Engineers (who are bound by a pretty strict ethics code to not deceive the public) to bolster public “buy in” of this sham.

      And yet, among many other examples, here we have Professional Engineer Tyree stating: the committee “wanted to land on a consensus” for the city and the mayor in its official report, so it “stopped short of recommending staff bring that pump station back.” Consensus for Water Engineer Manheimer? Seriously?

      And as far as the “comprehensive” part goes, well that’s a joke. The IRC did not review any of the 8-10 or so early and large pipe breaks (within the first 24 hours) that brought the system to its knees such that the south had to be isolated. Several of these large breaks occured on 12/24 and were near the boundary between the gravity section and the southern section. In texts between staff these breaks were reported as: “Both breaks are on 12 lines.” Significantly, 12″ lines are considered “transmission” pipes, not distribution lines and can flow a whole lot more water. Like the 4.5 MGD leak that was difficult to find that Melton described to impress City Council about what they had to deal with. Interestingly, NO 12″ line breaks were ever reported to the media in the group of often touted “27 breaks”, only 6″ and 8″. How do properly buried transmission size pipes break from freezing temperatures less than 24 hours into a freeze event? Was this “infrastructure” related. Melton made very clear in all of his public statements that the event was NOT infrastructure related.

      And of course, the public heard lots of talks about “busted sprinkler systems” around the city, which would create a lot of demand if they occurred. In my public records request on this from the city, no sprinkler systems were able to be identified.

      And, the IRC did not mention the fact that 2 water storage tank level indicators “froze” up and required critically short resources to fix when other serous problems needed attention.

      Of the two “main” problems they “found”…..
      1) They made it appear that the 10% limit open on the large control valve (used to feed the south) was unknown by staff and that if the 10% limit had not existed, the event would not have occurred. Well come to find out, staff fully knew about that control limit (which was put in place for good reason) and in fact manually opened the valve further during the event. After the IRC wrapped up and left, Director Melton has told City Council that they don’t plan to change that 10% control limit. Say what? So much for that IRC recommendation.
      2) The much heralded closed transmission valve in the River Arts District that prevented refill of the western region. Once again, after the IRC left, Director Melton told the City Council, this really wasn’t a root cause (because it wasn’t). So all that jawboning at the City Council meeting was a lot of “smoke blowing” up the (you know what) for the public. Perhaps more importantly, and since none of the early large leaks were reviewed, no one bothered to ask the question as to whether this large 24″ valve might have been closed during the event to support isolating the repair of two separate large breaks on Depot Street, which just happened to be less than 1/4 mile from this main transmission valve. If that was done in the heat of the emergency and repairs, it could easily have been left closed by mistake.

      And then the silencing of Mr. Holcomb. To his credit, at the Council meeting where the IRC presented their findings, he broke ranks and personally appealed to Council to prioritze getting the East Asheville Pump Station back in service. And he continues to do so today, at his expense of time and energy.

      We ought to consider whether that is “grinding an ax” as one commentor above stated, or whether that is someone who truly cares about achieving a safe and RELIABLE water system.

  18. Follow the money folks. Tax payers are paying more in property taxes in Asheville and Buncombe County than cities three times our size and they actually have less expensive water and sewer rates. Keeping these city and county (county manager got a bonus and another contract) officials (and their huge salaries) that blatantly lied to its citizens should not be tolerated.
    The water debacle will be happening again because our tax monies are spent on huge salaries instead of infrastructure upkeep, improvements and replacements.
    Guess the solution is to pay the tourism official (check her salary) more money and build hotels that no one will check in.

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