Mayor optimistic as Montclair’s water crisis eases
A day after announcing a water emergency in Montclair, raising the specter of a mounting calamity that would have required residents to boil their water, Mayor Sean Spiller said Sunday that “we are seeing progress on all fronts.”
With repair crews making headway at the source of the problem – a more than 100-year-old water main that ruptured about three miles away in Nutley on Wednesday, Oct. 5 – the mayor said Sunday evening that he had been assured by state water officials that the work could be completed in 24 to 48 hours. From that point, it would take about six hours, Spiller said, to repressurize a vast network of aged pipes and conduits that delivers water to a large portion of Essex County.
Relying on reports from officials of the North Jersey Water Supply Commission, which oversees the network, the mayor told Montclair Local he was “optimistic.”
“It was a positive situation moving forward,” he said.
In a video released on YouTube on Sunday night, Spiller said that the leak in Nutley had been located and sealed and that workers were in the process of testing the lines and restoring water flow.
In an email exchange with Montclair Local on Sunday night after the release of his recorded video statement, Spiller acknowledged that it was hard for him to provide a precise time when the system would be back to normal and operating without outside assistance.
“It's harder for me to say as there are a lot of variables in Nutley that we are likely not even aware of,” he said. “That's why we have been so focused on our efforts.
"We have positioned ourselves that no matter what they are doing, we should be able to maintain pressure and water for all our residents.”
With parts of Newark and a chain of towns also affected, including Glen Ridge, Bloomfield and Cedar Grove, Montclair – particularly its hilly sections – would be near the end of the line to see water pressure fully restored, Spiller said.
Meanwhile, the town was still under a state of emergency and prohibiting all non-essential use of water, from the maintenance of lawns, trees, shrubbery and landscaped areas, to running partial loads in dishwashers and washing machines, to the serving of water in restaurants unless requested.
Even as the crisis seemed to be nearing an end, Montclair was still relying on jerry-rigged passageways to deliver water throughout the town, an improvised process that presented its own challenges. Workers had to dig up parts of Grove Street by the intersection with Mount Hebron Road to tap into water lines belonging to the Passaic Valley Water Commission and construct a link to Montclair pipes a few hundred feet away, crossing beneath the road. Spiller said he anticipated this work would be completed on Sunday night and provide the town with about 350 gallons of water per minute.
On Sunday, Verona was still shunting 500 to 700 gallons a minute to Montclair. But Cedar Grove, confronting low water pressure in its own system, was forced to reduce its help to 50 gallons per minute from 1,500 gallons.
Over the last few days, other neighboring communities have grappled with the fallout from the rupture of the massive water main that measures 72 inches in diameter. On Saturday, Oct. 8, with repairs still failing, the Glen Ridge Emergency Management Coordinator Ann Marie Morrow released a “Proclamation of Local Disaster/Emergency,” prohibiting the non-essential use of water, a stricture that was in place on Sunday.
While Bloomfield did not declare a state of emergency, on Friday it advised residents to boil tap water before using. In Nutley, where the crisis originated, the town dealt with flooded streets, though its own water was unaffected. According to Newark’s Department of Public Safety, parts of the city – particularly in the East and South wards – were bracing for low water pressure or no water at all for periods over the weekend.
Spiller’s relief as the crisis began to ease was tempered by concerns for what the future held. Montclair has been mending broken pipes while repaving streets, he said, but the town remained dependent on ancient water arteries in other parts of the county, a scenario born out in Nutley.
In a meeting with Gov. Phil Murphy on Sunday, Spiller said he discussed the appointment of a water czar for northern New Jersey, as well as a backup brigade of pumps and water tankers that all towns in the region could turn to in an emergency. Spiller said that he was also consulting with U.S. Reps. Mikie Sherrill and Donald Payne Jr.
Fixing or replacing the creaky water supply grid is extra challenging because much of it is layered over with bands of cable and power lines. Workers tackling the rupture in Nutley had been challenged not only by piping more than a century old, but impeded in their work by valves just as old.
The governor, Spiller said, shared his disquiet about the challenge of modernizing the system overall. Murphy told Spiller that officials had recently shown him a piece of piping extracted from the grid. It was made of wood.