Bennington officials work to avert water crisis
NEAL P. GOSWAMI
BENNINGTON — Bennington officials said Tuesday morning that the water main delivering potable water to the town should be replaced by Thursday evening or Friday morning. In the meantime, residents are being urged to conserve as much as possible as they execute contingency plans to keep water flowing to homes.
Bennington Town Manager Stuart A. Hurd said at least 17 homes on the eastern side of Bennington had already lost water pressure Tuesday morning. Town staff are planning to bring a case of water to those homes.
“The 3 million gallon tank is continuing to drop. It is the primary tank that is providing sufficient pressure to get water to places like the hospital, the industrial areas, those kinds of things. So, we’re most likely looking at Thursday evening, Friday morning,” Hurd said.
Vermont Pure, which has a contract to pump water from the Morgan Spring for bottling, will provide “a couple of tankers on a as-needed basis.” The town is looking to use one in the area of Burgess and Barney Roads where people have lost water, Hurd said.
Water should be available to nearly everyone for the next two days until the water main can be replaced, Hurd said. However, residents must conserve as much water as possible, he said.
“We’re talking about: Don’t do laundry. Don’t wash your car. Don’t use water excessively. Please be hygienic. Don’t withhold those basic kind of hygienic needs. If you can flush your toilet on alternate uses, those kinds of things, that’s great.,” he said.
Meanwhile, town staff have contacted high water users and businesses to ask them to reduce use or temporarily shut down.
“If everybody cooperates, if industries cooperate, and right now they’ve been very cooperative, … we think we can get through this crisis and get the system back online so that everybody will have water,” he said.
Water Resources Superintendent Terry Morse met Tuesday morning with state officials and a contractor at the bridge on Route 9 in Woodford that washed out, taking the water main with it. State officials said they will begin working to install a temporary, one-lane bridge Tuesday afternoon and into Wednesday. The bridge will allow for a temporary water main to be installed on the surface of the bridge, Hurd said.
“That will provide the connection to the municipal system downtown. At the same time, we’ll be working to make sure that the intake is clear and that it is functioning properly. If that is not we’ve made arrangements to receive a large pump that will pump directly from the Bolles Brook into the filtration plant,” Hurd said.
Water will be treated at the plant once it is turned on, Hurd said, but officials won’t have time to test the chlorine residual in the system, he said. If the water cannot be tested and cleared by the state Department of Health a boil water order will be issued, he said. Testing takes time, however, and finding available, certified testing facilities will be difficult because of the high demand, Hurd said.
“The labs in Vermont are overrun right now … and many are inaccessible,” Hurd said. “If we’re fortunate we’ll connect the system. If we’re not ready to provide potable water we’ll issue a boil water order and we’ll turn it on because I think it’s more important that people have access to water, even if they have to boil it before they can drink it.”
Hurd said there is a 70 percent change of a boil water order being put in place.
Bennington Police Chief Paul Doucette said people with identification proving they are Bennington residents can pick up bottled water at the Bennington Fire House between 1 p.m and 5 p.m. today. The water was donated by Walmart, he said. Each family can take one case of water.
People who can afford to purchase water should do so, Hurd said.
“We’re going to be doing our best to help distribute water to families, but my message to the public would be, if you can afford to go buy bottled water and not take the free water, please buy bottled water and let us service those people who may not be able to afford it,” Hurd said.
Vermont Pure will deliver another truck load of bottled water for distribution on Wednesday, Doucette said.
Southwestern Vermont Medical Center spokesman Kevin Robinson said hospital officials have been “in touch with town frequently” with town officials and are continuing to review and develop contingency plans. He said the hospital’s incident command team was set to meet again at 2 p.m.
“The town has assured us that we are a priority for them,” Robinson said.
Meanwhile, state Agency of Transportation officials said Monday night that waters receded on the Batten Kill to reopen Route 7A in Arlington to traffic. Route 7 between Arlington and Manchester was also reopened to two-way traffic. Route 7 in Brandon and Rutland continues to have stretches of closed road but traffic — excluding tractor-trailers — can detour around the closed areas.
Officials said the agency hired four contractors to begin expedited work on washed out areas or Route 9 between Marlboro and Brattleboro. Additional work on Route 9 is expected to continue today. It remains unclear when a washed out bridge over the Roaring Branch in Woodford will reopen.
Hurd said a temporary bridge in Woodford will allow people isolated in Wilmington to travel west into Bennington. A Red Cross shelter may be needed again to help accommodate their needs, he said. The town of Bennington may also assist with policing needs in Wilmington because the Wilmington Police Department’s station was wiped out by flooding.
Gov. Peter Shumlin was set to tour the Vermont State Hospital in Waterbury Tuesday morning, which suffered flood damage over the weekend. Shumlin, Sen. Bernie Sanders and Rep. Peter Welch were then expected to meet Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Craig Fugate at the Burlington International Airport and tour affected areas by helicopter.
Hurd said incorrect information has been circulating and urged residents to make sure they receive information from credible sources. “If people use the (Bennington Police Department’s Facebook page) they will get accurate information. Right now there is a ton of inaccurate information floating around on Facebook and it’s unfortunate,” Hurd said.