Holden explains Chester water situation; boil order could be lifted today

By Shawn Cunningham
© Telegraph Publishing LLC

Water Superintendent Jeff Holden tells the Chester Select Board what led to the boil water order on Monday. Photo by Shawn Cunningham

Water Superintendent Jeff Holden told the Chester Select Board last night that the first of two tests of the town’s water system came back clean after a construction mishap pulled dirt into the water system on Monday.

That prompted the town to issue the “boil water” order for all businesses and residents on town water.

Holden said that a second test is required and if that is also clean, he will be able to lift the boil water order. Test results may be available as early as this afternoon. The system will still be chlorinated for several weeks to ensure the safety of the system.

What happened?

It’s a tricky business working with a 100-year-old water system, and on Monday, Holden and a crew from pipeline contractors S.U.R. West were replacing fire hydrants – a job that began in the summer of 2016 and was being finished up.

Working on a hydrant at the high point of Depot Street, a water hammer (when pressure meets an obstacle and has to change directions causing a surge) blew out the valve they were working on.

The hole filled up with water, picking up dirt and silt that was then sucked back down into the water system. The crew was working with the water main turned on with live pressure because Holden tries not to shut off large sections of the town’s water system if he can avoid it.

“People get upset when they lose water,” said Holden on Tuesday afternoon.

Speaking with The Telegraph on Tuesday Holden said that by putting a boil water order in place, he was following a state protocol and that he wanted to err on the side of safety.

The replaced hydrant.

Calling the contractors “some of the best people I’ve worked with,” Holden said that the contractors are not to blame for the problem. Noting that the joint that was blown out was made of lead, Holden told the Select Board that no lead got into the system.

“I think you did the best you could,” said board member Lee Gustafson.

“Everybody did,” replied Holden.

Getting the word out

Executive Assistant Julie Hance told the board that the town does not have an alert system of its own but tried to reach as many people as possible by asking the schools to use their robocall systems and having Vtel do the same. The town also used social media and The Telegraph to notify residents. She also noted that there were a number of people the town could not reach, including Comcast customers.

“And if people use cell phones as their only phone, we don’t have numbers for them,” said Hance.

Gustafson, mentioning an article from The Telegraph, noted that the town of Londonderry now has a town-wide alert system and that perhaps Chester could look into what they have done.

Job on hold until new tank is ready

According to Holden, there are two more “tricky” hydrants on Main Street near Church Street. Holden told the board that he will wait until the new water tank behind the high school comes on line later this fall to do the work.

Holden said that if the main were turned off to do the work without the new tank, the entire town would be without water for the duration of the job.

When the new tank is online, it can serve the majority of the water district while the pipe on Main Street is out of service. “This is one of the reasons we needed the new tank,” Holden told the board. The $4 million water project was approved by voters in September of 2015.

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