SOMERS, N.Y.--A break in a Heritage Hills water main cut service to almost all of that complex’s 5,000 residential customers for the better part of a day last week. Full service—drinkable water flowing from a tap—was unavailable through the weekend and not restored until early this week.

From the initial water main break late Thursday, Sept. 21, to the total shutdown early Friday, Sept. 22, to restoration Monday evening, residents’ water came from bottles, a local school and, for a fortunate few, the gravity-fed, undrinkable remains of the broken pipe itself.

A boil-water notice remained in effect into Monday as county health officials grappled with the potential for contaminants entering the water supply via an unpressurized pipe. 

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Heritage Hills provides its own water and sewer services through a private company, overseen by Severn-Trent Management.

Michael Batz, the regional manager for Severn-Trent, said officials could not immediately determine the cause of the pipe’s failure. 

“If you could answer that question,” he said in response to a query, “you would be a hero.”  

The Heritage Hills pipe has been laid in stages over the last three decades, providing more than 360,000 gallons of drinking water each day to the development’s 2,600 residential units.

The break—different officials put the rupture at anywhere from six inches to six feet—occurred in an eight-inch pipe running through the high ground of Condo 15. It burst at about 9:45 Thursday night (Sept. 21), said David Jacobson, chief of security at Heritage Hills.

That break immediately cut off the flow to about 95 of the complex’s homes, he said. By late the next morning, however, it was clear that a broken valve would mean turning off water to all the community’s residents. 

“They didn’t turn the water completely off to the complex until noontime on Friday,” Jacobson said.

Meanwhile, water escaping from the broken main had invaded a community center. 

“That shelter was flooded out,” said Somers Police Chief Michael Driscoll, who described the facility as the town’s primary shelter in emergencies.

“We would open a shelter in cases like this to let people get water, take a shower and other necessities,” Driscoll said. With that option foreclosed, he telephoned Kenneth Crowley, the Somers Central School District’s assistant superintendent for business.

Crowley quickly made the Somers Middle School available as an emergency water source and restroom site. SMS remained open till midnight Friday, Driscoll said, then reopened at 6 a.m. Saturday.

“I was very thankful for the school, that they opened that up on such short notice,” Driscoll said. “Ken Crowley did a great job with us, as did his custodians.” The chief said that about two-dozen Heritage Hills residents took advantage of the school facilities.

Other Heritage Hills residents had different workarounds. Jane Capelli, who lives downhill from the break, still had tap water despite the water main’s shutdown. “Gravity was in our favor,” she said. 

“Because there was some water left in the pipes, those who were at the right pitch got water,” Capelli explained. “So, we did have water...but we had to be very careful with it.” Water for drinking and hand-washing dishes had to be boiled.

“But you could take a shower or do your laundry,” she said. “That you could do.”

Pointing to the crises confronting post-hurricane populations elsewhere, Capelli shrugged off her own weekend’s inconvenience. “The people in Puerto Rico,” she noted, “wish they had this problem.”