Rash of Water Main Breaks Hits Vermont

A major water main break Friday in Colchester, Vermont, inconvenienced homeowners and businesses in a busy part of town, and became just the latest in what has been a rash of water main breaks across Vermont this brutally cold month.

The Colchester break, on Route 127 near the Burlington line, was difficult to locate, the crew doing the work said.

"I’ve been with the water district for 15 years, and this is the worst I’ve ever seen it," Dick Desautels, the administrator of Colchester Fire District #2 told necn.

Desautels said in this brutally cold month, Colchester has been fielding 35 or 40 calls a day for frozen water lines. The break of the main Friday was the worst problem yet this month, he said.

Tony Georgakis, the owner of Zachary’s Pizza, had to close during his normally busy lunch rush, disappointing hungry customers NECN witnessed turning around in his parking lot when they saw a sign about the closure posted in the restaurant’s window.

"I’m disappointed as well, so I have to be outside telling the customers what’s going on," Georgakis said. "Hopefully, they understand and give us a shot tomorrow."

A day care, a car wash, and other businesses along the busy road were also impacted, along with homeowners.

Some Vermont communities, including Winooski, have urged property owners to leave a faucet running, just a trickle; about a pencil’s width, to avoid having water lines freeze up. But not every town wants you to do that.

"Some communities have told us their water systems don’t have the capacity to absorb that," explained Joe Flynn, the head of the Vermont Division of Emergency Management & Homeland Security.

Flynn advised Vermonters to contact their community’s water service provider for guidance on whether leaving a faucet running is an appropriate step to take to avoid freezing service lines. Flynn said just this week, nearly 30 cities and towns across Vermont have reported municipal water pipes freezing or breaking. The Vermont DEMHS emergency line is staffed 24/7, helping towns navigate problems and coordinate water emergency responses, Flynn said. That watch officer can be reached at 800-347-0488.

Flynn said it is always a good idea, whether in winter or summer, to have bottled water on hand in case of emergency. More winter preparedness tips are available here.

With such deep frost in the ground, Flynn noted that public works departments may not be in the clear, even when temperatures do start warming up.

"I would expect utilities underground are just as vulnerable to moving ground thawing as they are to freezing," Flynn said. "So we could see more troubles before we’re done." 

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