Winter Waterline Woes in (Really) Cold Spring

‘The most difficult repair I’ve encountered’

By Michael Turton

Early on the morning of Tuesday, Jan. 2, with the temperature around 7 degrees and a major snowstorm predicted for later in the week, a leak was discovered in a waterline near Rock Street and Kemble Avenue in Cold Spring.

It took six village workers nearly three days and 111 collective hours to fix the break, working around the clock under terrible conditions. Superintendent of Water and Wastewater Greg Phillips recounted the effort as “the most difficult repair I’ve encountered in 20 years.”

A village map showing the approximate location of the break.

Tuesday, Jan. 2

2 a.m. Robert Downey Jr. of the Highway Department notices water on Kemble Avenue near The Boulevard. Scott Monroe of the water department notifies Phillips, who checks computerized monitors that indicate a leak of about 75,000 gallons per day.

8 a.m. Phillips, Monroe and Charlie Norton of the Highway Department meet at the site to evaluate the break.

10 a.m. A microphone called an aquascope is used to locate the leak. Mayor Dave Merandy is notified. Due to the 30-inch deep frost, a backhoe is not able to excavate, and village dump trucks are unavailable because they have already been outfitted for sanding and salting in anticipation of the storm. Highway Department workers are unavailable because they have just finished the overnight garbage pickup. A private contractor is contacted.

4 p.m. The leak affects 350 to 400 residents in about 100 households. Each household is contacted, as are Putnam County emergency and health officials; water is still flowing.

Wednesday, Jan. 3

9 a.m. Traffic is detoured and excavation begins.

11:30 a.m. The initial aquascope reading that appeared to pinpoint the leak proves to be incorrect. The search moves to Rock Street, west of Kemble.

Noon. Residents begin to lose water pressure.

1 p.m. At the new site, additional equipment is brought in to break through the pavement and heavy frost. The pump hoses keep freezing. Heaters are employed to keep them operable and to give workers relief from the bitter cold. (During the repair, the temperature never rises above 29 degrees.) Residents are advised to boil their water for drinking and cooking.

Village workers battled frigid temperatures while repairing the broken waterlines. (Photo by Sal Pidala Jr. )

3 p.m. The frozen ground further inhibits excavation. Daylight is waning. The trench fills with ice-cold water.

4:15 p.m. Portable lighting is set up.

5 p.m. A HydroVac, which excavates with pressurized water and a vacuum, arrives from Buchanan.

5:40 p.m. An 8-foot-deep trench is finally excavated. Three small, decrepit water lines are discovered. They are more than a century old and it’s not clear if they still supply any homes. Some older waterlines have never been mapped. Over the next two-and-a-half hours, the three lines are clamped off at the 6-inch Rock Street main after it has been cleaned of corrosion.

8 p.m. While attempting to re-pressurize the Rock Street main, water is detected coming from the original trench, as well as from one of the old, clamped-off lines.

8:30 p.m. Just north of the original excavation site, a fracture is discovered in the 6-inch Kemble Avenue main, which lies on granite less than 3 feet beneath the road. (The typical depth of a main is 4 feet to avoid problems with frost.) The line cracked around its entire circumference, creating a 360-degree leak.

A jackhammer was needed to chip away granite under the cracked Kemble Avenue main. The vertical pipe is used to remove water, rock and debris from the trench. (Photo by Sal Pidala Jr.)

9 p.m. The Philipstown Highway Department lends the village a jackhammer to remove some of the granite.

10 p.m. After the bedrock is removed, workers apply a clamp. But a new issue surfaces: another of the old clamped lines is feeding water into the Rock Street trench, indicating it is connected to a main in another location. The old line is an odd size and the Cold Spring crew doesn’t have the proper fittings to repair it.

11 p.m. Phillips sends photos of the odd-sized line to John Pizzella, a contractor who is a 30-year veteran of the Peekskill Water Department.

Thursday, Jan. 4

Midnight. Pizzella arrives with the fittings and the repair is completed.

12:45 a.m. Slowly, water pressure is restored to the area. All the fittings appear to be watertight.

1 a.m. Over the next few hours, fire hydrants on Kemble Avenue, Constitution Drive and Forge Gate Drive are flushed under low pressure to allow air to escape and prevent damage to residential lines.

The Highway Department workers, including Ken Trimble and Zach Langer, backfill, set up barricades and lay steel plates, clean up the site and remove equipment and the detour signs. After little sleep, they return to plow during the snowstorm.

Testing of the water for bacteria is delayed due to the treacherous roads. The boil advisory is left in place.

Friday, Jan. 5

9 a.m. Samples are sent to EnviroTest Laboratories in Newburgh for testing that involves a 24-hour incubation period.

Saturday, Jan. 6

5:39 p.m. The lab tells Phillips the water is safe. He informs the Putnam County Health Department, and the boil advisory is lifted.

6 thoughts on “Winter Waterline Woes in (Really) Cold Spring

  1. Just wondering: should the “computerized monitors” that indicated a huge leak have some sort of warning alarm? According to the article, it was visible water on the street that led to a check of the monitors.

    • The Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) system that we use does not provide for alarms on dramatic “flow to system” increases. But once we know there is a leak, I can remotely access the system to determine the water-loss rate. However, we will soon be replacing the master meter at the entry point to our distribution system with one that has the same technology as those installed in residences last year. It has cloud-based software that will allow for alarms to be set up for such instances, and without the expense of changing SCADA programming in the facility.

  2. Amazing work by the entire crew of men who got the job done despite such extraordinary hardship. Bravo! Public employees like these guys are worth their weight in gold for the physical labor that they do for the residents and I hope they get some kind of bonus.

    Meanwhile, here’s a thought regarding the current situation in Cold Spring regarding its infrastructure. It seems as though there are major problems with the water supply and delivery. As was pointed out, some of the lines are over 100 years old. There are problems with the reservoir and dam to the tune of $3 million.

    Can anyone remind me again why it is so important for the Village to spend a third of its budget revenue on a part-time police department when the Town of Philipstown (Cold Spring is still part of the town) uses the sheriff and state police? Shouldn’t the mayor and trustees take a hard look at what’s really necessary for the safety and protection of the residents? It seems to me that water trumps cops any day of the week.

    • The recent election of Robert Langley as sheriff for Putnam County should provide an opening for discussions of ways the Village can synchronize its policing to the services provided by the County, without so much obvious redundancy. This is a wonderful opportunity for fresh thinking.

  3. Great work by all.

    I would suggest timely weather alerts and directions for reducing the chances of accident, error and failures such as the one reported. For example, perhaps as the temperatures turn this cold for this long people using this system should run a little drip of water in their houses and apartments — assuming this is a good recommendation and it does not create or involve other problems or issues.

    Another example: just now the temperatures in the region have risen so much, and with all the rain, flooding is on the way due to snow melt and possibly involving ice jam, during the next several hours — and at the worst time in the middle of the darkness of night.

  4. This is an incredible story of what it takes — brains and brawn, teamwork and heroic effort to keep a village’s infrastructure operating.