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Norwich’s Water Wanes; Town Still Waiting on Fix for Pump

  • Pearl MacLeod rinses off a container before placing it in the dishwasher at Carpenter and Main Restaurant in Norwich, Vt., on August 8, 2013. MacLeod, who does odd jobs at the restaurant for her father, says the water shortage has changed up how she does her job a little, "We try to load the dishwasher up with dishes instead of just washing a few," MacLeod said. <br/><br/>Valley News - Sarah Priestap

    Pearl MacLeod rinses off a container before placing it in the dishwasher at Carpenter and Main Restaurant in Norwich, Vt., on August 8, 2013. MacLeod, who does odd jobs at the restaurant for her father, says the water shortage has changed up how she does her job a little, "We try to load the dishwasher up with dishes instead of just washing a few," MacLeod said.

    Valley News - Sarah Priestap Purchase photo reprints »

  • The Norwich Pump Station stands badly damaged after a fire gutted the small building in Norwich, Vt., on August 8, 2013. <br/><br/>Valley News - Sarah Priestap

    The Norwich Pump Station stands badly damaged after a fire gutted the small building in Norwich, Vt., on August 8, 2013.

    Valley News - Sarah Priestap Purchase photo reprints »

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  • A sign on Main Street reminds Norwich residents to watch their water uses after a fire burned the pump station that serves the town in Norwich, Vt., on August 8, 2013. <br/><br/>Valley News - Sarah Priestap

    A sign on Main Street reminds Norwich residents to watch their water uses after a fire burned the pump station that serves the town in Norwich, Vt., on August 8, 2013.

    Valley News - Sarah Priestap Purchase photo reprints »

  • Pearl MacLeod rinses off a container before placing it in the dishwasher at Carpenter and Main Restaurant in Norwich, Vt., on August 8, 2013. MacLeod, who does odd jobs at the restaurant for her father, says the water shortage has changed up how she does her job a little, "We try to load the dishwasher up with dishes instead of just washing a few," MacLeod said. <br/><br/>Valley News - Sarah Priestap
  • The Norwich Pump Station stands badly damaged after a fire gutted the small building in Norwich, Vt., on August 8, 2013. <br/><br/>Valley News - Sarah Priestap
  • A sign on Main Street reminds Norwich residents to watch their water uses after a fire burned the pump station that serves the town in Norwich, Vt., on August 8, 2013. <br/><br/>Valley News - Sarah Priestap

Norwich — Residents connected to the municipal water system have been asked to continue limiting consumption following a fire that damaged the pump station that fills the town’s reservoir.

The reservoir has about a two-day supply of water remaining, and officials are trying to find a way to restart the pump, which is thought to be operable.

If officials can’t restart the pump, the town would need to pump water temporarily across the Ledyard Bridge from Hanover.

The cause of the pump station fire is still undetermined, Fire Chief Stephen Leinoff said Thursday.

The origin must be determined before officials can tell if the blaze, which officials estimate caused $500,000 in damage, was suspicious or not.

Firefighters were called to the pump station on Route 5 just north of Butternut Road at 3 a.m. Wednesday. Firefighters were on scene as dark turned to light and didn’t leave until after 6 a.m.

Water from two wells near Route 5 is treated at the pump station and then pumped to a concrete reservoir on Dutton Hill Road, which is off Beaver Meadow Road.

The fire destroyed much of the interior of the building, including the electrical system that powers the pump that brings water from the wells uphill to the reservoir. The pump is still operable, however, if officials can rig an electrical supply.

Sam Eaton, distribution manager for the Norwich Fire District and Municipal Water Department, said he hopes to have a generator on site in the next couple of days, but he could not give a definite date. Fire district officials have located a generator that is large enough to run the pump, but even if they can get it here, it will take time to get it up and running. Electricians are scheduled to be at the site on Friday.

“It’s kind of baby steps here,” Eaton said, adding that he is “pretty confident” that the town has enough water in the reservoir for the next two days. He checked the level of the concrete reservoir early Thursday morning and said he was planning to check the level again Thursday evening.

There is one significant factor that could drastically reshape that time line. The pump station and the reservoir also provide water to the fire district’s hydrants. If there is a fire in the village center, fighting it could drain the remaining water from the reservoir.

“That is one of our concerns because it would deplete our water source and if that happened, we’d definitely have to hook up to Hanover in a hurry,” Eaton said.

Eaton said he likely would have to make a decision by this afternoon as to whether the generator will be up and running before the reservoir runs dry.

If the generator isn’t working, Norwich will have to pump water from Hanover. The water would travel from a hydrant in Hanover across the Ledyard Bridge — most likely through a PVC pipe — and into a hydrant on the Norwich side. The water would then be pumped through Norwich’s system to the reservoir.

If water must be transported from Hanover, then a boil order would be put into place. The water from Hanover would be treated, and ostensibly be safe to consume, but since it’s coming from another state, regulations require a boil order, Eaton said. He stressed that it would be safe for bathing.

The roughly 360 homes and businesses relying on municipal water should continue to conserve water until further notice, Eaton said. Daily tasks such as bathing, flushing the toilet and washing dishes are fine in moderation, but Eaton urged residents to put off laundry as long as possible and to avoid washing cars or using sprinklers.

A white sign was posted in front of Tracy Hall on Main Street on Thursday that displayed, “Norwich water users conserve water. PER: Norwich Fire District”

After the fire, Eaton notified the owners of Dan & Whit’s of the water issue, and the managers placed a last-minute order of more than 300 gallons of water. On Thursday, the gallon jugs were sitting in a back room of Dan & Whit’s in cardboard boxes.

Cheri Henry, manager and co-owner of the store, said the owners would likely post a notice on the Norwich listserv advertising the extra water supply if a boil order is put into effect.

The owners of Dan & Whit’s enjoy being the go-to spot for residents, especially during an emergency, Henry said.

“Everything is community linked,” she said.

Norwich residents weren’t stocking up on water on Thursday, but they were coming in looking for information. A number of residents asked Henry if they needed to boil their water, and Henry knew the answer: No.

“People do come here for not just how do I fix my lawn mower, but for up-to-date information,” Henry said.

That’s exactly how Bruce MacLeod found out about the need to conserve water. MacLeod owns the Carpenter & Main restaurant and saw a sign posted at Dan & Whit’s encouraging residents to conserve.

Instead of automatically filling up patrons’ water glasses, MacLeod told customers on Wednesday about the water shortage and asked if they’d like water before filling their glasses. MacLeod also is making sure not to run the dishwasher until it’s jammed full.

“I’m less worried about a boil order. That’s something I can live with,” MacLeod said. “But if we run out of water, I have to close.”

A state arson investigator has been called to help determine an origin of the fire, and Leinoff, the fire chief, said he is confident the fire wasn’t caused by lightning. There are no signs that the building was broken into, Leinoff said. When firefighters arrived on scene early Wednesday morning, they had to force their way through the front and back doors of the building.

The town suffered another destructive fire on Thanksgiving Day last year when three police cruisers caught fire in the early morning hours. The three cruisers had been behind the police station for about two hours before the fire started.

State arson investigators determined that fire was not suspicious, finding the fire started in the engine of a 2009 Dodge Charger. Investigators could not determine the exact location where the fire started, but state investigators told Police Chief Doug Robinson that they assumed it was a mechanical or electrical malfunction.

Norwich also has been vandalized on several occasions with anti-Semitic graffiti on Route 5 near the pump station. When asked if he’s thought there might be a connection between the graffiti and the pump station fire, Robinson said, “Absolutely, it has crossed my mind.”

The fire district, which owns and operates the water system, is a separate entity from the town, and there is an additional tax bill for residents who live within the fire district.

Cheryl Lindberg, treasurer for the town and the fire district, said she expects that the estimated $500,000 in damage will be covered by insurance through the Vermont League of Cities and Towns. But Lindberg said her focus isn’t on the cost.

“Our focus is making sure we are operational as soon as possible,” Lindberg said. “That cost, we’ll figure it out, but getting a generator and getting pumping capabilities is our goal.”

Sarah Brubeck can be reached at sbrubeck@vnews.com or 603-727-3223.

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