Phoenicia water system freezes up in severe cold snap
By Jay Braman Jr.
Ulster County Heath Department officials have issued a boil water advisory to Phoenicia residents after recent frigid temperatures froze so much of the district’s water supply that the system had to be switched over to an impure backup supply.
The warning was issued mid day on Sunday by Water Commissioner Rick Ricciardella and said in part, “Bitter cold temperatures resulted in a water shortage. The back-up system is being used (which was compromised during Hurricane Irene). Water is being chlorinated. Boil all drinking and cooking water until this cold weather breaks. And please use water sparingly, check for running toilets, leaks, etc.”
Ricciardella said that Monday’s warmer temperatures did nothing to free up the frozen springs that feed the system. He said two or three days in a row with temperatures of at least 40 degrees will be necessary to thaw things out.
Until then, Ricciardella is using the back-up supply from what is known as the High Street well, a water source along the Esopus Creek that was damaged during flooding from Hurricane Irene in 2011.
The decision was made when Ricciardella’s inspection of the collection point for the system alongside Old Route 28 showed that its recovery time after high usage over the weekend was slowing down.
Although it is possible that the system may have replenished itself Sunday night, Ricciardella had to hope for the best but plan for the worst. “I knew that if we have a fire we’re not going to have enough water.”
The High Street well is being watched by town officials. Town Supervisor Rob Stanley is currently seeking grant funds to move the well’s pumping system to higher ground.
In September of 2012 the pump house and well were almost swallowed up by the Esopus Creek after Phoenicia got seven and half inches of rainfall in one shot. Much of the shoreline had already been removed by Hurricane Irene in 2011 and the fury of those currents took the unstable shoreline all the way back to the actual well casing.
A $150,000 stream bank stabilization project, paid for by FEMA, made the property safer after last year.
Ricciardella is also nervously watching other parts of the water system. He said that, without adequate snow cover, the frigid temperatures will drive frost deeper into the ground and could actually freeze the mains and lines that run water into roughly 300 homes and businesses.
In the 1970s such a freeze occurred, Ricciardella said, and welding equipment was needed to thaw the lines.