When it comes to water, Rotterdam residents can’t seem to catch a break — unless it’s a water main break.
A water main burst Saturday morning on Bernard Street, flooding surrounding streets and some homes, forcing some residents out of their homes and lowering water pressure throughout the town.
The break follows an unprecedented six breaks along four water mains on June 30 that left about 22,000 town residents without any water for 24 hours and without drinking water for four days.
“Now this time, our street’s flooded,” said Jennifer Calandra as she looked over the street from her next-door neighbor’s front yard on Trinity Avenue. “With all the water main breaks lately, it’s been just a little bit much, I would say, to not be able to rely on your water supplier.”
The town won the 2014 Schenectady County Best Tasting Drinking Water competition in July, then went on to win the regional competition and will compete in the statewide competition Aug. 26 at the New York State Fair. Residents have also been paying more for their water: In February, the Town Board raised the yearly water fee from $25 to $75.
The water main, estimated to be 20 inches in diameter, broke shortly before 10:30 a.m. Water shot out of a growing sinkhole on Bernard Street as town public works crews worked to shut off the pipe’s two valves.
Highway Superintendent Larry LaMora said the pipe was likely installed in the early 1950s and pointed to its age as the reason for the break.
“A water main break could happen anytime,” he said. “It’s usually more in the winter time because the ground’s heaving and the movement from the frost.”
A boil-water advisory was not issued immediately following the break, and LaMora said there may not be a need for one because the line does not serve residents in that area.
“That’s a line that transfers to another area,” he said, “and once it’s isolated and shut off, we can uncover the broken area. And if there’s any contamination or anything, we clean it out and chlorinate any of the new pipes going in.”
Residents still had water service to their homes, but pressure was low throughout the town “because it’s such a big water main break,” LaMora said.
The pressure started to improve once crews shut off the last of two of the main’s valves at 1 p.m. The water, which had started to recede by then, also stopped flowing from the large sinkhole. Town officials issued an order later in the afternoon prohibiting all unnecessary water use for the next 24 hours, including outdoor watering, filling pools and washing vehicles.
LaMora said crews hoped to repair the break by the end of the day “if all goes well.” Bernard Street, however, will remain closed between North Westcott Road and Trinity Avenue until the middle of the week so crews can repave the portion of the street damaged by the break.
“We got everybody on standby as far as repairs, as far as parts and necessary things we’ll need,” LaMora said.
At 11:30 a.m., as water filled Bernard Street and the streets that connect it to Curry Road — North Westcott Road and Trinity Avenue — Dee Milliman waited to cross a busy Curry Road at its intersection with North Westcott Road, a suitcase in her right hand. After coming home from buying milk to find her street flooded and barricaded, she had parked her car across the street at Trinity Reformed Church.
“I shut off my central air and said I’m going to pack a few things in case I have to stay for the night, because I heard they’re going shut down the power for a while,” she said.
The basement of her house was filled with water. Milliman said she has never experienced such flooding in the 27 years she has lived there.
“I don’t even know if my insurance covers this,” she said. “I have no clue.”
Two basements were flooded on North Westcott Road, as were two basements and the first floor of a house on Bernard Street, said Justin Laustrup, chief of the South Schenectady Fire Department. About 10 homes were evacuated, but most residents were able to return Saturday afternoon.
Bill Steward was sleeping in his Bernard Street apartment when he received a knock on the door from a firefighter. He said the water was about 21⁄2 feet high when he stepped outside, and the basement was flooded.
“It’s already flooded out the furnace, flooded out the hot water tank,” he said.
Steward said the street had been repaved Thursday and speculated the weight of the equipment could have caused the break.
“The whole place was shaking inside, the cabinets, the dishes,” he said. “Everything was shaking in there.”
LaMora, however, said repaving the road “had no effect” on the water main.
“And that was two days ago, anyways,” he said. “It wasn’t like it happened while we were paving.”
The broken main and the sinkhole it left behind just mean the town will have to repave that section of road again, LaMora said.
Responding to the scene were town highway and public works crews, South Schenectady and Schonowe firefighters, Rotterdam police and National Grid.