SARATOGA SPRINGS – A water main break triggered a boil water advisory for the entire city Thursday night that remained in effect heading into the holiday weekend, sending businesses scrambling to adapt.
The problem emerged on Thursday around 3 a.m. when staff at the water treatment plant became aware of a “considerable” loss of water by the city’s reservoir, according to Commissioner of Public Works Anthony Scirocco.
Department of Public Works Utilities Department workers subsequently discovered a break in a 16-inch water main running below Green Street from the treatment plant. Utility crews dug into the road and found a horizontal crack in the main that required replacing 10 feet of pipe.
The water flowing through the line needed to be shut off before the work could be performed, which the city could only partially accomplish with the existing infrastructure. The city ultimately called in Hydra Tech Inc. of Sterling, Mass. to install an insertion valve capable of cutting off the water supply coursing through the pipes.
Scirocco estimated the cost of that emergency work at $29,000 while noting that the valve is permanently in place and could be used in the event of a future emergency that requires cutting off the water supply.
The contractors, traveling from several hours away, arrived in the city around 7:30 p.m. and had the valve in place around midnight. Afterward, city crews worked through the night to complete the repair on the water main on Friday at around 6 a.m. The city must perform additional work filling in the area surrounding where the break occurred and repairing the road.
“I can’t say enough about the utility crews,” Scirocco said. “They did a fantastic job.”
Although the city was in contact with the state Department of Health (DOH) throughout the ordeal after first identifying the issue, it was not until around 9 p.m. on Thursday that health officials ordered a boil water advisory for the entire city to protect residents against drinking water that may have been contaminated by microorganisms such as germs or pathogens.
Scirocco indicated an order was not issued earlier in the day as the city had been able to maintain water pressure throughout the system, but it eventually became necessary over time.
Beyond the wait to shut off the water running through the water main, Scirocco said crews were slowed down digging with jackhammers and saws to reach the break. The boil water order remained in effect throughout Friday and was expected to remain in place for at least another day. The order can only be lifted by the state Health Department after two consecutive days of satisfactory bacteriological water sample results.
Initial samples were “pretty decent,” said Scirocco, who is hopeful the advisory will be lifted sometime this weekend.
Business owners and officials are similarly hopeful the situation will be short-lived as the city welcomes an influx of visitors for the holiday weekend.
“On a very busy holiday weekend this is just bad timing,” said Darryl Leggieri, president of Discover Saratoga, on Friday. “The water main break has created quite an issue for our lodging members, our restaurants and our retailers. They are now scrambling to ensure the safety of their visitors, patrons and employees.”
While the advisory remains in place, all tap water used for consumption must be boiled for at least one minute prior to use. The order creates a burden for businesses that cannot use straight tap water for food, ice or beverages unless it is boiled as part of the preparation.
Roseann Hotaling, owner of Country Corner Cafe on Church Street, was forced to close her breakfast and lunch eatery on Friday and spent the day working to ensure it could safely reopen on Saturday.
“I woke up to the news this morning,” Hotaling said. “In my 30 years of having this business, this is the first time this has happened. This is the year of first times.”
Business was down about 60% at Country Corner Cafe over the past year due to the pandemic and was finally getting back to normal in recent months as the state has removed restrictions for individuals who are vaccinated against the coronavirus.
“We’re just recovering from all of that and we certainly are very hopeful for a much better summer, but this really kind of adds another dimension to things,” Hotaling said.
The first weeks of summer are already hopping in the city with the Fourth of July weekend shaping up to be especially busy, according to Hotaling.
“We are back at our 2019 numbers and we are seeing a lot of familiar faces and a lot of travelers and people from out of the area,” Hotaling said.
Tourism in the city is nearly back to normal, with only corporate travel lagging behind typical years, according to Leggieri, who pointed to the busy holiday weekend as a peak time for businesses.
“There is a lot of leisure activity right now and we’re seeing great traffic in our destination, which is great,” Leggieri said. “Saratoga Springs is a year-round destination, but a lot of our businesses try to make the big dollars in the summertime to get through the somewhat slower period during the winter so it is very important that they continue to stay open and do business.”
Operation of the pools at Saratoga Spa State Park will not be affected by the boil water advisory, according to a park official, as the already treated water is not used for consumption. Appropriate signs are in place notifying visitors against using drinking fountains.
By mid-afternoon Friday Hotaling had stocked up on bottled water and disposable place settings to be able to open as usual on Saturday and throughout the weekend.
“I’m just very hopeful that we don’t have any other obstacle coming our way,” Hotaling said
Businesses throughout the city seemed similarly prepared to meet the challenge if it persists through the weekend.
“Our members have flipped the switch and gone into emergency mode and they are scrambling to find water and ice and everything else needed to ensure the safety of their guests,” Leggieri said. “Instead of throwing in the towel many are trying to figure out an action plan and move forward with that to ensure that they are able to continue through this busy weekend.”