Health & Wellness

City Repairs Broken Water Main, Says Yellow Water is Safe to Drink

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NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ - An “extremely large” water main break today unleashed a buildup of iron, which in turn caused yellow water to pour from some city faucets, according to the head of the New Brunswick Water Utility.

Mark Lavenberg, speaking during and after the Dec. 29 City Council meeting, said a crew had repaired the damaged main by about 5:30 p.m. While discoloration in the water “takes time” to dissipate, the flow should soon return to normal, he said.

“It’s iron that’s in the water,” he said, responding to a concern raised during public comment. “Yes, it can be drank, but who’s going to drink water that is discolored? Nobody. But it’s going to clear up.”

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The city got word of a water main break off Voorhees Road this morning. In the afternoon, a video posted on Facebook appeared to show yellow water pouring from a New Brunswick faucet into a plastic water bottle, raising red flags among some residents. An expert also told TAPinto New Brunswick that residents had good cause for concern, though she did not know the specifics of this situation.

Affected areas included the Rutgers Village and Edgebrook neighborhoods. The break never prompted their water to shut down, but the untold number of affected households now have normal running water, Lavenberg said.

The city never issued a boil-water advisory, meaning the discolored water was safe to drink, according to officials. The city did, however, recommend against using the yellow water for laundry shortly after the publication of the video.

Charlie Kratovil, a resident and the editor of the activist community newspaper New Brunswick Today, said the city should have notified residents earlier in the day and released more information.

The break initially looked like a minor leak, Lavenberg said.

A repair team had trouble locating the problem spot but eventually realized the damage was larger than first thought, Lavenberg said. He said the flow of water was comparable to that of six running fire hydrants.

Pipes and lines are made of cast-iron. Iron builds up over time and then mixes with the water during main breaks, he said.

“It’s quite common knowledge in the entire country—this is certainly not unique to New Brunswick—that there is a very aging infrastructure that is an issue,” Lavenberg said, noting that the lines below Rutgers Village were likely installed during Harry Truman’s presidency, in the 1940s and ‘50s.

To try to combat rust, the city flushes its lines twice per year, Lavenberg said. That’s what’s going on when residents see fire hydrants open and spewing out water for no apparent reason, he said.

Coincidentally, the City Council approved a change order of $67,729 to a water utility contract during the meeting. That money was used to pay for two prior water main breaks.

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