LACKAWANNA COUNTY -- Pennsylvania American Water says it has received an influx of calls over the past few weeks about discolored water. It took some investigating but employees found two things in common with the areas affected: ongoing construction or paving projects and fire hydrants.
The utility company says it's cracking down on contractors illegally using hydrants.
Pennsylvania American Water owns and maintains most of the fire hydrants in our area. Officials with the utility company say several hydrants have been messed with over the past few weeks, causing discolored water or low pressure in Lackawanna and Luzerne Counties.
"As we're going around investigating these complaints, we're seeing that there are areas where there are contractors doing construction work, paving work. It's that time of year where there are a lot of contractors out there trying to get their restoration projects completed and they need water," explained Pennsylvania American Water official Susan Turcmanovich.
Turcmanovich says the company has not caught a contractor in the act but if one is caught, they could be criminally charged or face a hefty fine.
Only PAWC and fire departments are permitted to use fire hydrants.
"It's been going on for a while and I think Pennsylvania American Water is just trying to clamp down on them, and we as a fire service also, we don't agree with anybody using the hydrants such as contractors coming in at their free will and just doing it," said Archbald Fire Chief Robert Harvey.
Chief Harvey says he's seen contractors strip the bolt used to open hydrants or fail to close them correctly, causing them to freeze in the winter.
"Any fire hydrant that goes out of service is communicated through the 911 Center and they send out an alert to the communities that it involves and we're notified by text message that that fire hydrant is out of service," he explained.
"We really need the public to help us, call us immediately, call our customer service to let us know if they have discolored water. If they see someone using the hydrant other than a company employee or a fire department, they need to call us immediately so we can get out there and investigate," said Turcmanovich.
In addition to asking for the public's help, Pennsylvania American Water says it is sending crews out to check hydrants more often, hoping to discourage companies from using them.