WATERVILLE — The general manager of the Kennebec Water District says he wouldn’t drink the brown, discolored water coming out of area faucets either.
Roger Crouse said that he was not advocating for residents to drink the murky tap water — which is related to a break in a water main located beneath Messalonskee Stream off North Riverside Drive — when he declared it was safe to ingest in news reports.
“Why would you drink it? It’s so discolored,” Crouse said Wednesday morning, two days after the main break occurred. “No one should think we’re suggesting that they should drink the water, but if they do, they don’t have to worry about their health.”
Crouse explained Tuesday that there are miles of old water mains in the city’s system, most of which contain sediment. When workers engaged isolation valves around the break so that water could be redirected to the affected area through redundancies in the pipeline in order to restore service and water pressure, it caused an increase flow rate in those pipes which stirred up a lot of sediment.
Four tests were conducted Monday evening to determine the water quality, Crouse said, and to see whether the water contained any coliform bacteria. Coliform bacteria, which are not particularly harmful on their own, is what is known as an indicator organism — meaning that if coliform is detected in a water supply, it is likely that harmful, disease-causing organisms are also present.
Crouse said each test came back clean without traces of coliform. The district also took a number of tests with a broader sample from throughout the system Tuesday evening, but as they take 20 hours to run, were not complete by Wednesday morning.
“We are confident that the water continued to meet all applicable water quality standards during and after the event,” Crouse said. There are no health standards regulating the levels of magnesium and iron in drinking water — levels which have been elevated by the increased amount of sediment in the water.
Thousands of customers from Waterville, Winslow, Fairfield, Benton and Vassalboro initially experienced low water pressure or a suspension in service when the water main broke Monday morning, Crouse estimates. He said the water district received around 500 calls Monday, most of which came in during the two-hour period in which crews were searching for the location of the broken pipe. Another uptick in calls came in that afternoon when the discolored water became a widespread problem. Typically on a busy day, the district might receive 100 calls at the most.
Crouse said he believes the water discoloration is mostly cleared up for residents, but some issues still exist in a few pockets within the system.
“Most of the system is okay,” he said. “Here at our office we had brown water, and Tuesday morning it was cleared up.”
The pipe in question experienced a break last November, Crouse said. The repaired pipe came apart when it shifted in the stream, taking on more pressure than it could handle.
Hard-hat divers from Commercial Divers Inc. of Bangor were hired to repair Monday’s break, which will consist of replacing the damaged pipe with new pipe and connect it with the existing water main. Crouse said the district will use a crane to place concrete blocks in the stream to secure the pipe.
The completion of the project depends upon the availability of a crane. Crouse said it is a busy season for renting cranes, and it could take a week or two to acquire one.
Once the pipe is repaired, Crouse said, the district will work with an engineer to determine whether to replace the entire pipe in Messalonskee Stream, as it’s vulnerable to breaks.
Crouse, who took over as general manager in February, said Monday the city needs to replace the older pipe system, as highlighted by the main break and the existence of sediment in the pipes. Over the next 12 months the district will be coming up with a master plan to determine where to invest dollars in replacing the old pipe.
Sediment clouds and colors the water flowing into a tub Monday in Waterville. (Nikolas Hample via Morning Sentinel)