Water woes becoming more than a drop in the bucket

In a scene that may feel too familiar, residents of a handful of homes and an apartment building were told Friday, Jan. 9, 2015, to boil their water before drinking it, thanks to some breaks in the water pipes.

In an inauspicious start to the year, there were a total three breaks reported Friday, including on Alcazar Avenue, South Eighth Avenue and Montgomery Street. The affected pipes were described as “trunk lines,” as opposed to water mains. Officials are blaming the damage on the freezing temperatures of the past several days.

“At least two, Alcazar and South Eighth, have not had such problems before or not recently,” Council President Susan Welkovits stated in an e-mail late Saturday afternoon. “All were repaired by yesterday evening.”

Only nine private homes and the residents of an apartment building were affected by the advisory, which is issued as a precautionary measure whenever a water pipe needs to be repaired. The boil water advisory was lifted by Friday evening.

The cracks in the pipes have been blamed on the age of the pipes and the stresses the pipes are experience with seasonal freeze-thaw changes in weather. When the temperature drops in the winter, the ground compacts; and when the weather warms in the spring and summer, the ground expands. The stresses are compounded when the freeze/thaw scenario is repeated several times during the year.

The pipes, however, remain fixed in place. The shifts in the ground put pressure on the pipes, and in time they may fracture and require repairs.

The breaks on Friday are the latest in a series of difficulties to beset the water infrastructure in Highland Park. A review of the borough’s alerts and Twitter feed shows that in the past 30 months, the borough has alerted residents at least seven other times to boil their water before drinking it because of breaks or other difficulties.

The most recent of these advisories came Nov. 7, when Middlesex Water Co. reported having problems with a water valve that lowered water pressure in some parts of the borough. The advisory was lifted the next day, on Nov. 8.

Only two weeks before that, a water main under Wayne Street broke on Oct. 23, between North Second and Third avenues.

The borough experienced two water main breaks on Montgomery Street one year ago. The first hit Dec. 31, 2013,  and it took four days before the water advisory was lifted. The second came two months later, on Feb. 28. 2014.   That boil advisory was lifted the next day.

After the first of those two breaks, then Mayor Gary Minkoff sent a letter to residents, in which he blamed the break on “very old infrastructure,” and stated that the borough was developing financing and engineering plans to correct the underlying problems behind the break.

The borough also issued two water advisories in 2013. The first came May 30, following a break on Madison and Lincoln avenues, and was not lifted until June 2, three days later. The second water advisory came Oct. 23, when a water main broke on Wayne Street, between North Second and Third avenues – the same general area that had problems in October 2014.

There also were two water advisories issued in 2012. The second of these came Nov. 5, following a power failure at a water intake plant in New Brunswick during Hurricane Sandy, and it was lifted the next day.

The earlier water advisory in 2012 came in May, when there was a water main break. The online record does not indicate where.



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