Residents on North Mountain Avenue were hit with heavy flooding Tuesday morning when a 12-inch water main on Upper Mountain Avenue ruptured, sending water down the hillside and inundating yards, leaving part of Upper Mountain closed for eight hours and badly damaging at least one driveway.

The break happened just before 9 a.m. along a 20-foot section of pipe on Upper Mountain Avenue, not far from a portion of the same pipe that burst four years ago, Township Manager Timothy Stafford said. 

Stafford said the cause of the latest break was unknown. “There is nothing that the township could have done to prevent the main break,” he said in an email exchange. 

Roughly 90 minutes after the break, workers from Montclair’s Water Bureau & Sewer Utility
Department finished the repairs on the break, though about 10 homes remained without water until about 2 p.m, Stafford said. It wasn't until just before 5 p.m. that the closed section of Upper Mountain
Avenue between Watchung Avenue and Berkeley Place was reopened.

The homes in the area are set in a hilly section of Montclair and are particularly vulnerable to heavy rains and water surges. 

Barbara McCarthy, who has lived in her gray-shingled house on North Mountain Avenue for 38 years, saw the water “gushing” down her long driveway onto the street.

Given the landscape, some residents were angered by what they see as poor maintenance by the town. McCarthy’s next-door neighbor, Rebecca Merritt, said this wasn’t the first time her property has been flooded, recalling that just a couple of years ago she spent nearly $6,000 to replace major appliances that were damaged and to clean up the mess. She feared, she said, she was facing the same situation this time around.

 “Anytime there’s heavy water shooting from Upper Mountain, I take a hit,” Merritt said. 

“Thank God they got it turned off in time because we were about to lose our air conditioning. We were about to lose our hot water heater again. We were about to lose,
basically, our refrigerator, our dryer and our washing machine.” 

Workers from the Montclair Township Water Bureau & Sewer Utility clear the flood water from North Mountain Avenue. (Credit: Talia Adderley)
Workers from the Montclair Township Water Bureau & Sewer Utility clear the flood water from North Mountain Avenue. (Credit: Talia Adderley)

Merritt worries, too, that the town has not acted swiftly enough to repair aging mains, particularly, she said, with climate change causing more havoc with the weather. 

This to me is unconscionable, that I pay $35,000 a year in taxes, and I live in an expensive house,” she said. “And this is what I'm dealing with in my yard when it rains and when there's a water main break.”

Facing the prospect of another costly cleanup, she said, “No one should have to do this.”

The affected section of North Mountain Avenue is susceptible to periodic deluges. The street, a block west of Edgemont Park, is nestled just below Upper Mountain Avenue and receives runoff during storms. Neighbors depend on neighbors to buttress dividing walls that can sometimes temper the flow of water. Still, they said, they rely on the town to fix larger problems.

Stafford said the water and utilities department is “continuously engaged in a water main replacement program, replacing  approximately one mile of pipe annually.”  

On average, he said, Montclair experiences six to 10 water main breaks a year.

For the 10 homes affected, Stafford said that a “boil water alert” was put in place and that water samples would be tested. A boil water alert means that residents are advised to boil water as a precaution before using it.  

Cary Chevat has lived on the street for 21 years and endured water surges and flooding before. He laid the blame squarely with the township.

“This is just another example of failed management,” he said.