Lax Boil Water Alert in Carmel Sparks Outrage

A large water main break in Carmel Oct. 1 disrupted water service to more than 5,000 residents, numerous businesses, the high school, hospital and public buildings. The break occurred at Old Rte. 6 near Day Road causing the town to issue a “Boil Water Advisory,” a New York State protocol in case any untreated water might yield harmful microbes in the drinking water. The advisory was posted on the town website on Oct. 1 and was lifted on Tuesday, Oct. 5.

The 52 miles of pipe in the town’s water district #2 supplies water to residents in the hamlet of Carmel, those living near the West Branch Reservoir, Lakes Gleneida and Gilead and along the Croton Falls Reservoir.

“This was an unprecedented water main break,” explained Town Engineer Richard Franzetti, who said the crack in the eight-inch wide pipe was about eight feet long. “We haven’t had a boil water advisory in District 2 in over eight years.”

Residents became alarmed when they had no running water or their water pressure suddenly was very low.

“Our water pressure was low and we didn’t know why,” said Carmel resident Renee Recchia, who works in the field of public health. “There were no emails, no Robo calls, no flyers were hand delivered. No one knew which streets were without water.”

Carmel resident Greg Ellner said he was also distressed about not being notified by the town. Ellner learned of the water main break in an email from Carmel High School announcing an early dismissal because the school could no longer provide potable water.

“The town failed to follow the New York State protocol,” said Ellner. “They didn’t notify people that they couldn’t drink the water.”

According to Franzetti, state protocols were followed. “We gave out flyers to businesses at Putnam Plaza and Old Route 6 as well as to the hospital and Silarx Pharmaceuticals. We put an alert on the town’s website at noon and then posted the Putnam County Department of Health’s ‘Boil Water Notice,’” he said.

According to Tom Brann of Inframark, the company who manages the town’s three water treatment systems, several rounds of water samples were taken to test for multiple bacteria to make sure the water was safe to drink. “The alert to boil the water is a precautionary measure,” he said.

The Putnam County Department of Health (PCDOH) notice listed more than 50 streets impacted by the water main break. But not all streets without water were listed.

Concerned about an older neighbor who was ill and had no running water, Recchia called the PCDOH 24-hour hot line Friday evening to find out if the water was contaminated and what streets had been affected. “They called back in less than 15 minutes,” she recalled. “Some of the side streets had no water but were not identified in the department notification — streets like Parkview Circle and Majestic Ridge. And it seems there were others.”

The state protocols for notifying the public are spelled out on the New York State Department of Health website.
According to Vince Perrin, a public health sanitarian with PCDOH, the town did notify them of the water main break at approximately 12:30 pm on Oct. 1. In an email, Perrin wrote that information from the town verified that customers who were notified were believed to be out of water for four hours or more and were notified as per state requirements.

When Perrin was asked if the PCDOH approved of how the town handled notifying all 5000 residents of the Boil Water Alert, he only confirmed that “the hand delivery of the notification to the businesses was in compliance with the NYSDOH requirements.”

Perrin claimed the town “expanded the notification area to include a larger number of customers, beyond those that were required to be notified, out of an abundance of caution.”

Recchia said that two days after the water main break she saw an electronic billboard on the street directing people to the town’s website to learn more about boiling their water. “It was disappointing that it took so long to get the information out,” she said. “If you have an infant or an older parent who is immune-compromised, not having water has more of a severe impact on them. It’s important that information like this is well communicated to all residents.”

When Ellner aired his complaints at length at last week’s town board meeting, Supervisor Kenneth Schmitt suggested that Carmel residents sign up for texts and E-alerts. “It’s a valuable tool and a way for us to get information out to you in the future,” Schmitt said.

Schmitt also saw the need to improve communications when serious events could threaten the well-being of the community.

“The takeaway from this is that we’re going to develop a plan — an emergency action plan,” Schmitt said. “We will have an improved and updated plan in place and we’re going to do a better job next time.”

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