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Multiple waterline breaks hit Benham, could lose water

What began as an early dismissal for Cumberland Elementary School last week has since erupted into water loss concerns among residents in the city of Benham and parts of Cumberland.

The school was dismissed at noon on Oct. 16 after Benham city officials expressed a need to the Harlan County School District office about conserving water in the area.

City officials said Benham’s intake pumps normally run around 250 gallons per minute, using water that travels down the mountain. After a recent dry spell, however, the pump is only moving about 50 gallons per minute and the levels continue to drop.

Benham Mayor Howard White said Benham Water has issued warnings to its customers regarding water conservation efforts until the levels return to normal. White added as long as they are able to keep water in the system, it should keep pumping.

Over the course of the weekend and into Monday, Benham experienced multiple line breaks, which flooded areas and resulted in the water to be shut off. Although the city has since been given permission to pump water from a nearby river, White said at this point “it doesn’t matter who runs the water plant, even if Jesus Christ was up there.”

“When that thing decided to blow, it blew,” he added. “There’s only one thing to do now and that’s fix it. That’s what we’ve been trying to do.”

Pipes that the water has to travel through to reach customers dates back to the 1970s, and because of the outdated fixtures, the pipes were unable to sustain water pressure. This eventually led to the multiple line breaks, according to officials.

White asks the ones that are effected to “be patient and give these guys a chance to get things under control,” noting the understaffed crew has been working around the clock to address the issue.

White said the city of Benham doesn’t have the funds to fix the breaks and it would take a substantial amount to do so, mentioning the area’s power board and workers from the city of Cumberland have already tried to help with some of the issues.

“Cumberland, Benham and Lynch are like third-world cities anymore,” White said. “I hate to say it, but I don’t care anymore.”

Benham continues to face low water levels after the breaks occurred, causing water to be shut off from Walter Dick Park to Cumberland Elementary School.

White said if another six-inch line breaks, the entire city of Benham and parts of Cumberland will more than likely lose water.