Thursday: Claremont Put Under Boil Water Order

Claremont — Tomorrow afternoon is the earliest residents should expect city officials to lift a “boil water” order that was issued yesterday, after the bacteria E.coli was found in a sample during routine testing of the city’s water supply.

“We are in this until late Friday afternoon,” said Public Works Director Bruce Temple. “We need two clean samples, so to say anything before that would be premature.”

At a news conference at City Hall yesterday with City Manager Guy Santagate and Rick Skarinka, an engineer with the Department of Environmental Services, Temple said it takes 24 hours to get results back on each sample. The first one was taken at 1 p.m. yesterday and sent to Eastern Analytical, a lab in Concord, and the second one will be taken today.

“Right now, we are trying to determine if it was just a bad sample,” Temple said.

Temple said the city tests at five different locations twice a month. The E.coli was detected at a business on Washington Street. The same site tested clean last month.

The order forced businesses and others to take immediate action. Though it appears no place closed, restaurants and convenience stores had to stop serving tap water as well as coffee and fountain drinks made with public water. All public buildings quickly moved to turn off water and place notices to the public about the order to boil water.

Around 2 p.m. on Pleasant Street, Shane Bodkins, co-owner of New Socials, was pulling shopping bags full of bottled juice, soda and water off the back of a pickup and carrying them into the restaurant.

“I found out about an hour ago,” said Bodkins, estimating he spent about $50 on bottled beverages.

At the Java Cup on Pleasant Street, manager Heather Chaffee said “as soon as we heard we began acting immediately.”

That meant dumping six pots of coffee, a half-gallon of recently made Expresso and all the ice.

“We probably lost a couple of hundred dollars in product alone,” said Chaffee. “That doesn’t include the customers we couldn’t give coffee to. We can’t serve coffee, iced drinks, hot chocolate and we boil water for tea.”

Chaffee said one customer was right in the middle of enjoying a cup when she learned of the city’s order.

“She came up to the counter and said, ‘Can I give this back.?’ ”

By this morning, Chaffee said she will brew coffee using bottled water.

The school district sent out a “reverse 9-1-1” notice to all families around noon advising them that the schools had disconnected or shut off water from fountains and sinks at the schools and plans were being made to have bottled water available today along with water jugs, portable drinking fountains and cups.

Temple said the city was contacted by DES at 10:30 a.m. yesterday, triggering an emergency management plan involving the police and fire departments. Schools, child care and health care facilities were notified immediately as well as local and state media to assist with putting the word out.

Rolf Olsen, director of community engagement at Valley Regional Hospital, said they held a meeting at noon and developed a plan to shut down all locations with tap water, posted warning signs throughout the hospital and began distributing bottled water.

“We already have a supply of 62 gallons and are out buying more,” Olsen said.

There is heightened concern with patients because their immune system is weakened, Olsen said.

“That is a big concern, so we are taking extra precautions such as opting to not allow showers,” he said.

On Washington Street, the three large grocery stores, Wal-Mart, Hannafords and Market Basket, were hit with a run on bottled water.

“We are just trying to get it out (on the shelves) as quickly as possible,” said Hannaford Assistant Manager Colin Churchill, while a co-worker opened boxes of 2 and a half a gallon jugs and slid them on empty shelves. “As fast as we bring it out, it is going.”

Churchill said he had called his supply sources and was certain they would be able to keep up with demand until the crisis is over.

“We are placing additional orders and doing all we can to bring water in,” he said.

Fast food restaurants along Washington Street were not serving coffee or soda. At Burger King, the soda dispenser was removed but canned soda was to be available today. McDonald’s posted the notices on its counter and by the soda machine.

At yesterday’s meeting in city hall, Temple and Skarinka said they may never know how the bacteria got into the water. The city’s water is chlorinated at the treatment plant on Winter Street, which kills E.coli bacteria.

“We had excellent chlorine residuals at the site,” said Temple. “That is what is confusing.”

“There are no acceptable levels (of E.Coli,)” Skarinka said. “It is either there or it isn’t.

“We are testing all components of the system,” he said. “Does it look right? Has anything been compromised? We may never find out where it came from. If it is not obvious, we resample and move on.”

Temple and Skarinka said the problem is unlikely to be at the treatment plant but somewhere along the line, including possibly at the test site.

Temple said there are 3,600 water meters hooked to the system, including business, residences and other institutions. The water system relies on a 150 million gallon reservoir, a 40 million gallon reservoir and the Sugar River for its supply. About one million gallons is delivered into the system each day.

Detailed information of the boil water order can be found on the city’s web site www.claremontnh.com and notices will be posted on CCTV.

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