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Springfield declares state of emergency due to water main break

Para leer este artículo en español, haga clic aquí.

Springfield, Massachusetts, has declared a state of emergency in response to a major water main break Tuesday afternoon that has disrupted daily life across the city.

Schools and senior centers were closed Wednesday, as were most food establishments.

Mayor Domenic J. Sarno said the emergency declaration will avail the city of infrastructure repair funds offered by the state.

"This is a big job. It's going to costs millions of dollars. The area in question is very unstable where the break is, [there's] erosion," he said. "We don't want any of our pipes being compromised any more."

The water main affected is off of St. James Avenue in Springfield and spilled some 10 million gallons.

That dropped the water pressure low enough to pose a bacterial contamination risk, according to the Springfield Water and Sewer Commission, which asked residents to start boiling their water Tuesday night.

Sarno held a press briefing at City Hall to discuss the issue and offer information for residents on how to stay safe.

"This has been obviously a huge inconvenience to our residents and business community." he said.

Water bottles.
Elizabeth Román
Water bottles.

Residents are being advised to use boiled or bottled water to drink, wash dishes, make ice, brush teeth and prepare food until further notice. The boil water order also affects the neighboring city of Ludlow.

In downtown Springfield, Granny's Baking Table was one of the few eateries that remained open.

Sonya Yelder is a co-owner of the establishment.

"None of my pastries are made with water, so I didn't have to use water. We bought bottled water, or gallons of jugs for our coffee so we could still brew coffee for people and we just did business as normal," she said.

Yelder said she may have to make adjustments if the water situation continues for the next few days.

"I think if there is a water shortage, as in people buying jugs of water, we might have a problem with coffee," she said, adding she will go to Connecticut to buy extra water and have it available if necessary.

Nino Settembre owns Fantastico, a salad and wraps shop in Tower Square on Main Street. He said after seeing the alert on his phone Tuesday night he started thinking about how to keep the business open on Wednesday.

“We're open because we prepared ourselves. We boiled pots and pots of water to get us prepared for the day. It was just a lot more work than we normally do,” he said. “We take water for granted.”

He said he hopes the water quality will improve soon and the boiling order will be lifted.

“We haven't got a notification for about tomorrow, so we'll just do the same thing we're doing today,” he said.

The city has provided a list of commonly asked questions coming in to the 3-1-1 helpline. See below:

Who is affected?

  • All Commission drinking water customers in Springfield and Ludlow
  • Commission drinking water customers that are “border accounts” in Wilbraham and East Longmeadow
  • Residents of towns that receive drinking water wholesale from the Commission, including Agawam, East Longmeadow, Longmeadow, and Southwick should contact their respective Water Departments/Public Works Departments regarding drinking water quality for their community. Currently there are no other boil water orders in this area.

What should customers do?

  • Bring water to a roaring boil water for 1 minute
  • Do not ingest water without boiling it first
  • Flush toilets as normal
  • It is safe to shower, try to avoid getting water in you mouth.  For elderly or infants that need help bathing and that may not be able to avoid getting water in their mouth, the Commission is recommending sponge baths
  • Discard any food, ice, or formula, etc. prepared with tap water after 3 PM on Tuesday, Sept. 12
  • Boil water or use bottled water for pets too
  • Drinking
  • Preparing baby formula
  • Making ice
  • Brushing teeth
  • Cooking or washing food
  • Washing dishes

What if customers report discolored water?

  • As is typical with large main breaks some customers are reporting discolored water due to shifts in the distribution system
  • Customers experiencing discolored water should flush their cold water tap for 10-15 minutes, wait ½ hour, then repeat as necessary. After flushing, follow boil water orders as advised.
  • To address the discolored water, Commission crews are conducting system flushing throughout the distribution system (flushing is conducted by strategically opening hydrants)

How long is this expected to last?

  • The Commission isolated and closed the break on Tuesday afternoon and system pressure has returned to normal levels across the distribution system.
  • The Commission is working with Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection – who oversees municipal drinking water systems, as well as local and state public health officials to address the issue and resume normal operations.
  • The Commission is monitoring the system and will continue to verify adequate pressure and will collect bacteria samples to confirm adequate water quality in the distribution system so that MassDEP can lift this boil water requirement. 
  • Currently, it is expected that the boil water alert will be in effect until Thursday (September 14th) pending water quality sample testing results

Officials said the city is working to secure pallets of bottle water for distribution at cooling centers. The water being distributed is for Springfield residents that cannot boil-water or that have underlying health conditions, families with babies and infants, or the elderly. As of now, the water distribution centers will be open for Wednesday only through 6 p.m. If additional days are needed, the city will send out proper notification.
Water distribution locations can be found here.

Kari Njiiri is a senior reporter and longtime host and producer of "Jazz Safari," a musical journey through the jazz world and beyond, broadcast Saturday nights on NEPM Radio. He's also the local host of NPR’s "All Things Considered."
Elizabeth Román edits daily news stories at NEPM as managing editor. She is working to expand the diversity of sources in our news coverage and is also exploring ways to create more Spanish-language news content.
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