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More broken water pipes prompts Middlebury to ask for emergency declaration

MIDDLEBURY — An unprecedented series of water main breaks and leaks in Middlebury over the past three weeks has prompted the town to urge residents in some neighborhoods to boil their water before drinking it — including boil-water notices in some areas that are new today — and for everyone to conserve water.

On Thursday morning, the town reported additional water main breaks overnight that resulted in the expansion of the precautionary boil water notice to customers of town water in the Mainelli Road, Pond Lane and Industrial Avenue areas. At least two business that depend on town water are affected — the Cabot/Agri-Mark cheese plant and Aqua ViTea kombucha maker.

The water situation is worsened by the fact that the town reservoirs are low, said Interim Emergency Management Director Tom Hanley.

“What I’m worried about is what if we have a significant fire?” he said.

The town is trying to get bulk water deliveries, in addition to bottled water, which is no available at the police station.

Middlebury is seeking an emergency declaration from Gov. Phil Scott.

The town water system experienced a surge three weeks ago that has caused repercussions throughout the distribution area. Public Works believes that the surge caused a high-pressure wave to travel through the system, causing breaks at weak points in the lines. The water system has experienced at least 18 breaks since the initial surge.

Town workers shut off water on at least nine roads on Wednesday and Thursday so that crews could replace four valves along the Cady Road corridor. Assuming all repairs go per plan, the state will then allow testing to occur on Friday. The complexity of the tests means the town would get results for two or three business days and boil water notices will be in effect until at least next Wednesday, Feb. 20.

In attrition to the Industrial Park area, the boil water notices apply to:

  • Route 7 South from 1129 (former U.S. Forest Service Ranger Station) to the Lower Foote Street intersection.
  • All of Cady Road, which runs between Route 7 and Case Street.
  • Maecliff Court.
  • Most of Lower Foote Street (the part south of the farm to the intersection with Route 7).
  • Case Street from Airport Road north to the north entrance of Mead Lane.
  • Airport Road, Munson Road, Butternut Ridge, Mead Lane, Drew Lane and the Lindale Mobile Home Park.

Consumers in the listed areas are instructed to boil their water for one minute before consumption.

Hanley said the boil water advisories are being issued strictly as a precaution because periods of low or no pressure caused by a break or leak increase the very low probability that outside contaminants could enter a water system.

“In all cases, when breaks are repaired, lines are flushed, and disinfecting chlorine residuals are confirmed before restoring service,” Hanley said in a release Thursday morning. “In cases involving boil water notices, water samples are taken after repairs are made for laboratory analysis and boil water notices are lifted after acceptable results are received from the lab.

A regularly updated list of advisories continues to be available on the homepage of the town’s website — townofmiddlebury.org. Also, town crews have been personally notifying citizens located within the precautionary boil water advisory areas both when the advisories are issued and when they’re lifted.

“Combined with the varying ages and materials of the town’s mains — some are made of cast iron and approaching 100 years old — the nature of the ‘pressure wave’ has made it difficult to predict when the breaks and leaks will fully subside,” Hanley said.

With Public Works crews working extreme hours to make repairs, it appeared last week that the number of breaks and leaks was dropping and that the event was ending. Unfortunately, the number increased again, leading the town to issue this update. Hanley said that water service has been fully restored but the public should know that breaks and leaks could occur throughout the rest of the winter.

As a result of the situation, the town has submitted a request for a “local declaration of emergency” from Gov. Phil Scott. If granted, the town will receive additional assistance from the state, including the possible delivery of potable water for citizens without water. Hanley said the town would hope to get some financial assistance from the state, as well.

Dealing with this situation has not been cheap. Hanley said the town has spent $500,000 in the last few weeks dealing with it, much of it for pipes, parts and valves.

And the toll on the Public Works Department employees has been significant, too. Hanley said a crew was out last night until 3:30 a.m. fixing three broken pipes.

“These guys are wiped,” he said.

Hanley explained that an initial investigation showed the surge responsible for the breaks and leaks was likely created by a fire hydrant that froze in an open position. After the hydrant thawed, water flowed through it to such a high rate that it caused a “pressure wave” throughout the town’s system, damaging mains and further weakening infrastructure in susceptible areas. An outside engineering firm has been retained and the investigation will continue to fully confirm the cause and assist with system maintenance concerns and future planning. Middlebury police are also investigating to determine if someone was tampering with the hydrant, whether in malice or carelessness.

BOTTLED WATER NOW AVAILABLE

Drinkable water may be obtained 24 X 7 at the Middlebury Police Department at 1 Lucius Shaw Lane. For those under a boil water order or those without water, bottled water is now available at the police department. The water bottles contain 5 gallons of water and weigh about 40 pounds. Stop at the lobby window and you will be directed to the garage where the water is stored. Due to the cold the water must be stored inside.

You may also bring your own container and fill it at the police station. You can also bring your own container to fill at the Department of Public Works on Route 7 South during work hours: Monday-Friday, 8:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m.

With all the vulnerable old pipes in the ground, and some broken pipes still buried in soil and clay, it could be three to six months before the water system is put back to normal, though that doesn’t mean boil water notices will continue that long.

“The town understands the incident has caused a great deal of inconvenience to our citizens, and we thank them for their continued patience as our crews work to repair the unprecedented number of breaks and leaks,” Hanley said. “Water conservation remains integral to the town’s ability to manage this situation and your cooperation is greatly appreciated.”

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