BETHEL – People living in Bethel are being told to put off washing their cars after a leaking main under the Androscoggin River forced the town to use fire hoses to keep water flowing.

Bethel Water District employees discovered a major leak in the town’s principal water line at its Androscoggin River crossing Sunday morning.

The river sits between the district’s water source, Chapman Brook, and Bethel village.

District Chairman John Head said the section of water main that failed was installed on the river bottom in 1889.

Until now, it had been trouble free.

Underwater repair efforts Sunday afternoon were unsuccessful.

Head said consulting engineers will be on site Monday morning.

“The goals of the district’s advisers, trustees and staff will be … to determine if effective, long-lasting repairs to the river crossing can made; and if not, what steps should be initiated to replace the leaking main,” trustees said in a statement released Sunday night.

Head and other trustees also issued a plea calling on people to restrict water use until normal pressures can be restored. Car washing, garden and lawn watering were prohibited until further notice by the trustees.

Anything people can do to provide additional conservation measures such as delaying doing laundry also was encouraged.

A temporary main was installed by the district and the Bethel Fire Department using fire hoses that have been chemically disinfected, Head said. The hoses bypass the section of main that’s in the river. Water going to homes via the temporary main has been treated as it normally is by the district and is safe to drink, trustees said.

“We will keep our customers informed of the district’s progress,” said Head, “and will appreciate their continuing cooperation as we work to resolve this unforeseen problem.

“Every effort is being made to minimize the inconvenience and to restore our system to full working order as rapidly as possible,” he added.

Head said trustees, who were continuing to discuss the situation Sunday night, haven’t been able to pin down a cause for the leak in the ancient main.

“It’s been fine up to now,” he said.

Near the leak, contractors are putting in a bridge spanning the river that will be for use by snowmobilers and foot traffic, but not regular vehicles or heavy equipment.

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