Water everywhere, not a drop to drink
MILFORD – A broken water line that leaked roughly 1 million gallons shut Milford schools Friday out of concern that sprinkler systems wouldn’t work, and town officials issued a recommendation that drinking water be boiled.
“It (the boil notice) is just a precaution. There is nothing operationally that we have seen that indicates a problem,” Department of Public Works Director Bill Ruoff said Friday afternoon. “The water levels (in the system) never got down to where we got into ‘negative pressure’ . . . that would draw anything into the pipes.”
The recommendation was slated to stay in effect until results of bacteria tests on water could be completed.
“That probably won’t happen until (Saturday) morning,” said Town Administrator Katherine Chambers.
The break, which Ruoff said appeared the biggest ever to hit Milford, happened about 2:30 a.m. Friday, and was discovered due to water-pressure fluctuations a short time later.
Ruoff said water levels in Milford’s three storage tanks got very low before the break was isolated, but that water pumped from the town’s well and from Pennichuck Water Works, which has a connection to Milford, filled the gap. The Milford water system serves 3,200 residential and ness customers – about two-thirds of Milford, as well as a small number in southwest Amherst. The rest of Milford is served by private wells.
Ruoff said a “tapping sleeve,” used to connect a side pipe to the main, 12-inch water pipe, had broken underneath the intersection of Granite Street and Route 13, also known as Mont Vernon Street, about a quarter-mile north of the Oval. Before the line was shut down, an estimated 1 million gallons leaked into the ground and poured up and over Route 13.
“I heard the water running (in the street) around 3 a.m. and saw them working. I was able to draw some water and save it,” said Hope Burnett, whose 35 Mont Vernon St. home is next to the break.
Her neighbor, Lynne Erdody of 39 Mont Vernon St., was also able to save some water before DPW workers shut it off.
“There was water all the way across (Route 13) to the other side,” she said.
Erdody had retired Thursday from her job as a clerk at Milford District Court, and so had to celebrate her first work-free day without water.
“It’s not easy washing your hair in a basin,” she joked.
Ruoff said road workers would “cold patch” the intersection when the line was repaired and would have to do a more serious repaving next week, at the same time making sure that the leak didn’t wash away soil underneath the road, weakening it.
Water was actually cut off Friday only for a few streets, but many Milford residents and businesses saw low water pressure. Also noticeable was a discoloration that Ruoff said was caused when sediment in underground pipes was stirred up as large amounts of water flowed into them.
“It’s just like when hydrants are flushed,” Ruoff said.
Town Administrator Chambers was almost alone Friday in a Town Hall that was closed due to fire department concern that water pressure was too low to activate sprinklers in case of an emergency.
“We’ve had relatively few calls,” she said. “We’ve been working hard to get the word out, through media . . . and knocking on doors (in neighborhoods near the break).”
Riverhouse Cafe owner Charles Burke, who noticed the break when he drove past it on the way to work, said the lower pressure and coloration were noticeable, but “nothing major.”
Like most restaurants, the Riverhouse uses bottled or filtered water.
The biggest impact of the break came for the town’s 2,400 students, who saw school canceled mid-morning because the fire chief was concerned that water pressure was too low to activate sprinkler systems in case of an emergency.
At least one parent was angered by the decision to send kids home.
“I think they should have herded these kids to a safe location – even outside would be safer than out in the street,” said Michael Mika, who has four children in the elementary and middle school.
Elementary School Curriculum Coordinator Martha Leck-Leonard said the school followed its emergency plan, usually called into effect only for early closings due to snow. The plan includes information sent in by parents at the start of the year, such as whether children should go home with a friend on a different bus.
“We’re not able to call all of them,” she said. “There are just too many.”
Mika said, however, that his children told him that nobody at the school had checked whether they were following any special plan, and said that “lots of kids don’t know what to do.”
His own children were told to come home in an emergency because he and his wife work different shifts and one of them is always there, but he said the two eldest missed their bus and had to call him from a teacher’s cell phone before going to a friend’s house.
“What about parents that aren’t home during the day?” he said. “They (the schools) should have called individual parents. It’s not acceptable to have 9-year-olds wandering the streets.”