On a humid, 90-degree day in July, many Rotterdam residents had to leave their homes to quench their thirst.
“It’s the hottest day of the year, and here there’s no water,” said Gina Britton of Garrison Avenue on Tuesday after loading three gallons of water into the back seat of her car.
Britton, 44, who was bringing the water home to her husband and three kids, contributed to a steady stream of residents who lined up at the former Curry Road Shopping Center where, for a second day, town officials and police, American Red Cross workers and volunteers provided water to residents affected by a boil-water advisory.
Neil Stuart, a National Weather Service meteorologist, on Tuesday confirmed that it was the hottest day of the year so far, with a recorded high of 90 degrees and a heat index in the mid-90s.
“It’s very uncomfortable,” Stuart said.
The boil-water advisory remained in effect Tuesday for Rotterdam residents in the 12303 and 12306 ZIP codes. The town expects the advisory to remain in effect no later than noon Thursday.
About 22,000 residents are without adequate water following an unprecedented break of four water mains early Monday morning, starting with a 21-inch pipe at about 1 a.m. Monday that left a large hole in Princetown Road. The section of road off Five Corners was still closed Tuesday as crews worked to repair and clean the road.
Many people had no water at all throughout the day Monday, and some were without water Tuesday until the last of four broken mains, on Bernard Street and Wallace Avenue near the Rotterdam Industrial Park, was repaired at about 1:15 p.m.
With the last of the mains repaired, the town’s water tanks began to fill up and water pressure started to improve, Deputy Supervisor Wayne Calder said.
“Everybody will have some kind of water hopefully by now,” Calder said at about 1:35 p.m. Tuesday. “It’s not drinking water.”
The advisory means residents should not drink the town water without boiling it first. Otherwise, they should use bottled water for drinking, making ice, brushing teeth, washing dishes and preparing food.
The advisory does not apply to residents of Rotterdam Junction, which has its own water district within the town, Calder said.
For the thousands of residents without drinking water, the Curry Road water station was a reliable well. Price Chopper and the Regional Food Bank of Northeastern New York donated truckloads of bottled water, while the town paid A1 Water Wagon of Duanesburg about $600 to provide 8,000 gallons of water in a tanker and another $600 to refill the tank by noon Tuesday. The station will remain until the advisory is lifted. Residents seeking water are required to show identification to prove they live in Rotterdam, Calder said.
Inside Tops American Grill, Bakery & Bar on Duanesburg Road in Rotterdam, customers filled the seats during the lunch rush to grab a bite and cool off.
Outside, a 2,000-gallon tank provided water to the restaurant for washing dishes, brewing coffee, running the soda fountains and more.
“It’s an expensive proposition, but we need to stay open for our community,” said Evan Christou, the diner’s owner. “It’s one thing to boil water at home and use it, but here there’s water flowing through coffee urns, through soda machines, through the sinks … ”
The restaurant disconnected from the town water source early Monday and had a water company connect the tank in time to open at 8 a.m. The tank is costing the business close to $1,000 a day, Christou said.
“We are vested in this community. This community has been good to us for 50 years and we also didn’t want our employees to lose their hours,” he said. “So even if it’s a wash, it’s worth keeping the restaurant open for the public and our staff.”
What caused the four mains to break was still unknown Tuesday.
“When we get back on our feet as far as getting fresh water to the people, we’re going to sit down, critique some things and try to find out the reason why,” Calder said.
The deputy supervisor said it was also too early to provide an estimate on how much the damages will cost the town.
“It’s going to cost a pretty penny,” he said.
Calder said the four breaks point to the town’s aging water infrastructure and he took the opportunity to defend the Town Board’s decision to raise water fees by $50 — from $25 to $75 — in February.
“You see what’s happening here,” Calder said. “This is one of the reasons why we raised our water fee.”
The fees were increased to help fund water infrastructure improvements such as the installation of a new wellhead on Rice Road, Calder said.
“If we had the other well already built that we set our fees for, we could sure as hell put water back in the system a lot faster,” he said Tuesday afternoon.
All Kathy Springer knew was that she was paying three times what she used to pay for a service she didn’t currently have. Springer, 38, was one of many town residents to pay their water bill on the last possible day Tuesday, after the town extended the Monday deadline because Town Hall was closed for the boil-water advisory.
“It’s very ironic to go pay my water bill and then not be able to use my water,” she said after paying at Town Hall.
Once the water tanks reach a certain height, the town planned to gather a sample of water to be tested by a New York state certified testing facility, Calder said.
Before the advisory can be lifted, the water needs to be tested at least twice, with at least 18 hours between each test and the results being shared with the county.
“After two clean test results, Schenectady County Department of Health will evaluate the results and will make the decision to rescind the boil-water advisory,” according to a news release from the town.
In the meantime, residents like Denise Brooks will continue to make the most of the situation. Carrying an empty gallon jug in each hand, the Princetown Road resident watched as water flowed from the spout of a water tanker on Curry Road into a jug held by her 5-year-old son, Dominick.
“I had a cold bath this morning,” she said. “He’s gonna get one in a minute.”
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