BETHEL – Thirteen months after last year’s watershed-destroying rain deluge, the Bethel Water District remains in an emergency situation.

However, its 675 customers have had safe drinking water for months. Unlike last summer, fall and winter, they haven’t had to drastically scale back water use or boil water.

“We’ve been delivering drinkable water since mid-December,” district treasurer and trustees Chairman Michael Broderick said following Tuesday night’s board meeting in the Bethel town office.

“We’re in the process of putting a new pumping plant and treatment center in place, so we’re still in an emergency situation, because we don’t have treatment and telemetry at our new site yet.”

When the facility, which includes five new wells, is finished in early January 2009, it will have an automated system for treatment and sampling.

That’s being done manually now.

“We’re less automated now than we were before the disaster,” Broderick said regarding the catastrophic rainstorm on July 11, 2007, that destroyed the town’s gravity-fed water source and the Chapman Brook watershed.

Frequent and heavy rains this spring and summer have caused construction delays.

District Superintendent Lucien Roberge said Tuesday night that with the new system, their goal is to provide 375 gallons of water a minute.

With the old water system, they could provide a maximum of 146 gallons a minute, which wasn’t good for firefighting efforts.

“In the past, customer water consumption had impacted firefighting, but with the new system, we should be able to keep it very close to full and that’s got to be reassuring to our ratepayers and firefighters, who will appreciate the extra flow. Now, we’ve got the capacity to pour a lot of water on a fire in town,” Broderick said.

The district was awarded $1.5 million to $1.8 million by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and Maine Emergency Management Agency to change over to the new system, the total cost of which is $2.6 million, he said.

The remainder will be bonded through the state bond bank and Maine Drinking Water Program through the Maine Department of Health and Human Services.

Projects remain, among them piping water to the system and wells in the pump station.

“We’re now running two wells continuously, but it’s not running like it’s supposed to, so we’re running from another emergency location,” Roberge said.

“Hopefully, by the start of the new year, we’ll be back online,” Trustee Brent Angevine said.

“It’s been an adventure,” Broderick added.

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