Montclair limits water use under state of emergency
Montclair remained under a state of emergency on Sunday, Oct. 9, because of an ongoing water crisis related to a water main break in Nutley last week.
In a YouTube video message posted Saturday, Oct. 8, Mayor Sean Spiller announced the declaration, which took effect at 3 p.m. and prohibits all non-essential use of water, including watering of lawns and gardens and running partial loads in dishwashers and washing machines.
“The impact of this break has been devastating,” Spiller said of the ongoing Nutley rupture. “While we have been working nonstop to try and mitigate the impact on our township, and thank you to all of those who follow the notifications asking for a voluntary reduction in water use, we are still just not experiencing enough water use reduction to meet our supply challenge.”
On Wednesday, Oct. 5, the North Jersey District Water Supply Commission experienced a major water main break in Nutley on a six-foot diameter line, Spiller said. This main is Montclair’s primary source of water, Councilman Peter Yacobellis said in a recent email message to Montclair residents.
Spiller added that the Nutley break also interrupted service on a nearby four-foot Newark water main.
On Friday, Oct. 7, at approximately 10 p.m., multiple failed attempts were made by the North Jersey District Water Supply Commission to fix the break. However, these attempts coupled with other unsuccessful water supply efforts led the township, by midnight, to conclude that it would not have enough water.
After drawing this conclusion, Spiller stated that he immediately contacted Gov. Phil Murphy to discuss different ideas Montclair had devised with the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection and county and state Offices of Emergency Management. Together, Spiller said, the town was able to meet Montclair’s water use demands early into the next morning.
“With the steps we have taken and with your assistance, I am optimistic that we can meet the moment,” Spiller said.
Right now, Montclair has connected its system with several nearby towns. Cedar Grove is supplying the town with approximately 1,500 gallons per minute, Verona is contributing 800 gallons per minute and Clifton is assisting with 1,000 gallons per minute.
“In the switching of pipes, in some cases relaying water through pumps in fire trucks and from one hydrant to another; and in rerouting of water – sometimes in reverse direction than normal, all of this can create some brown water from sediment being kicked up,” Yacobellis said in his email message. “However, per federal clean water standards, our water remains safe to drink and is being tested regularly.”
Although currently safe to drink, Yacobellis said that, because Montclair’s water is now coming from the drinking water systems of three towns, residents will most likely have low water pressure, which is also putting a significant strain on the supply after the recent dry summer.
In addition, the private organization, New Jersey American Water Company, is also providing an additional 600 gallons per minute through the system. All of Montclair’s wells are working at full capacity, Spiller said, and every one of the town’s pumps is being used to infuse the additional water.
“Our director of utilities has also been in the process of digging channels through Grove Street to connect our water system with the Passaic Valley Water Commission water supply,” Spiller said. “If we are successful, a process that will likely take days, it should allow us additional water flow into our system.”
Montclair has reached out to Bergen County OEM to ask for assistance with providing multiple water tankers stationed throughout town to be used in the event Montclair’s fire department has to fight a fire. These tankers provide an immediate water supply for emergency use without the need to drain water from the town’s system.
A stockpile of 38 pallets of bottled water, each containing approximately 80 cases of water, will be staged at Montclair’s Department of Community Services yard, located at 219 North Fullerton. “If needed, our emergency services would bring bottled water to any of those who face challenges picking up water or are homebound for any reason,” Spiller said.
Montclair is asking for assistance beyond the state to find additional solutions. The town’s congressional delegation is working to see if there is any federal assistance that can be provided to help get potable water on site and to see if there is a possibility to receive any Federal Emergency Management Agency assistance without having to declare a federal emergency. The town has also reached out to the National Guard to request additional pumps or for help assisting North Jersey District Water Supply with fixing the broken pipe. However, Spiller said, additional pipes may be difficult to obtain given the current aftermath of Hurricane Ian in Florida.
“Our biggest risks right now are that if any of the many pumps that we are currently overworking burn out or fail in any way, we run the risk of any water main break on our system because of the ways we are stressing it in different ways than normal,” Spiller said.
“We have the situation where other towns are facing water shortages just like we are and therefore Cedar Grove and others have already indicated they may need to reduce the amount of water they are providing us,” he said. “Any of these challenges would certainly have an impact on our ability to provide the water that we need. But one of the biggest challenges, and that we need your assistance with, is water use reduction.”
He continued, “We are asking residents and businesses to do all you can to please reduce your water usage.”
On the morning of Sunday, Oct. 9, the township released guidelines for the prohibited uses of water under the state of emergency. They include the watering of lawns; the watering of outdoor gardens, landscaped areas, trees, shrubs and other outdoor plants; non-commercial washing of automobiles and trucks; the washing of streets, driveways and sidewalks; the serving of water in restaurants, clubs or eating places unless specifically requested by the individual; ornamental water use, including, but not limited to, fountains, artificial water falls and reflecting pools; running partial loads in washing machines and dishwashers; and operating non-essential ice machines.
In his announcement, Councilman Yacobellis made some additional suggestions on ways in which Montclair residents can conserve water. These include shutting off automatic watering timers, taking shorter showers (baths are strongly discouraged), holding off on doing laundry or running the dishwasher until absolutely necessary, not running the faucet when brushing teeth and flushing the toilet less frequently.
“Given that we don't know how long it will take for regional authorities to get the system under control and because of limited supply, we must preserve what we can to ensure we have running water for as long as we can,” Yacobellis said.