Montclair water crisis: Testing underway after repair of Nutley break
The rupture of a huge water main in Nutley that touched off a state of emergency in Montclair and crises in a ribbon of Essex County towns has been fixed, but the process of testing the water for contaminants will likely delay a return to normal until Tuesday, Oct. 11, at the earliest, according to the top water official in Newark, which was also affected by the break.
On Monday afternoon, technicians were chlorinating the water and beginning to draw samples to test for E. coli and other bacteria, while workers were doing the routine work of probing for any other possible leaks, according to Kareem Adeem, director of Newark’s Department of Water and Sewer Utilities.
“From that point, there is a 24-hour hold to see if the water clears the tests,” Adeem said, while emphasizing it was a delicate procedure. “When you start recharging, you have to be careful. You can risk other parts of the pipe. So we are looking at Tuesday at the earliest. ... Once everything is cleared, you can let everyone know they can open up the valves.”
Meanwhile, Montclair, which declared a state of emergency on Sunday, Oct. 9, and is coping with reduced water pressure, will continue to prohibit non-essential use of water. Among a number of restrictions, the watering of lawns, trees, shrubbery and landscaped areas, the running of partial loads in dishwashers and washing machines, and the serving of water in restaurants unless requested are banned.
While neighboring towns, including Verona and Cedar Grove have diverted some of their water supply to help Montclair, that has proven to be a partial solution at best. After finding that water pressure had dipped in its own pipes, Cedar Grove was forced to taper its contribution to Montclair to 50 gallons per minute from 1,500 gallons.
Perhaps the most important step Montclair took to avoid more severe repercussions was to construct on the fly a connection between its own pipe grid with water lines belonging to the Passaic Valley Water Commission. The new piping, extending a few hundred feet beneath Grove Street, near the intersection with Mount Hebron Road, holds the promise to deliver Montclair with 350 gallons of water per minute and can serve the community in a future crisis, Mayor Sean Spiller said.
"We have positioned ourselves that no matter what they are doing,” he said, referring to the work in Nutley, “we should be able to maintain pressure and water for all our residents.”
No immediate measure, though, could offset the disruption created by the breach of the Nutley water main on Wednesday, Oct. 5. The main, also called an aqueduct, is 74 inches in diameter with a circumference of nearly 19.5 feet. At more than 100 years old and fed by the Wanaque Reservoir, it lies parallel in Nutley to three equally ancient aqueducts, and is the largest of the set. The others are 51, 48 and 42 inches in diameter. As a group, they distribute 300 million gallons of water each day, said Adeem, the Newark water official.
When in full working gear, the water main that ruptured normally sends out 80 million gallons daily, branching off into networks of pipes that serve Montclair and other towns, including Bloomfield. So fragile and creaky are the mains, that a rupture in one imperils the foundation and structure of the others. With this in mind, Adeem said, officials from the North Jersey District Water Supply Commission, which is responsible for much of the region’s vast labyrinth of water pipes, felt compelled to turn off two of the adjacent water mains. That affected water pressure in other areas, including parts of Newark.
“The mains are routinely tested for weaknesses,” Adeem said. “But at the end of the day the infrastructure is old. So you gather knowledge on the weak points and move forward with repairing.”
Working around the clock, it took repair crews from Nutley and Newark, the Essex County Office of Emergency Management, the state’s Department of Environmental Protection, and the Passaic Valley and North Jersey water commissions about five days to repair the rupture.
Hanging over Montclair was the prospect of boiling tap water and being forced to buy bottled water, but a worst-case scenario seems to have been averted. With testing for safety underway, all that seemed to be left for residents was waiting for water to return at full force.