Gateway water problems addressed

The water main break on Saturday, Oct. 15, that caused Gateway Regional to close the following Monday and Tuesday (Oct. 17 & 18) is still not entirely resolved. The pipe has been repaired, electrical components replaced, and water is flowing to the schools. However, Bernie St. Martin, a certified water operator contracted by the Gateway district reported that as of noon Wednesday, the water had failed the bacteria test, due to a small amount of contamination, so the school must still use bottled water for drinking and cooking.
St. Martin said the bacteria is probably coming from backwater from the broken pipe. He said this was the first time that bacteria had been found in the water at Gateway since 1964.
The school has also been working closely with the state Department of Environmental Protection and Massachusetts Rural Water Association, a non-profit trade association of rural water and wastewater systems, that helps towns to plan and develop water resources. Hopson said they are a great resource for small and rural towns.
Brian Wing, Gateway Facilities Director, said the water was chlorinated as a precaution after all the repairs were made. More samples were taken on Wednesday and Thursday of this week, and they are waiting to hear if they will need to re-chlorinate the system or flush more water.
“Even when we do get back to zero bacteria, we’ll still be under advisement from the DEP as to when we can go back to drinking water,” Wing said.
He said they are currently using bottled water purchased at Costco, but have asked various state and federal agencies for water availability for the school.
At the school committee meeting, Gateway’s Business & Finance Director Stephanie Fisk said the school had filed an insurance claim on Monday for cost of the repairs, which totaled $23,000, with a $2,500 deductible.
Hopson said the school had already been working with the DEP on alternative sources of water. He said the discussion began last year when the flow from the well decreased significantly. They resolved that problem, but have been working with DEP since, on other options.
“There is still the potential that DEP could require us to supply alternative water to the district,” Hopson said. “The breaking of the pipe from the well to the school was the straw on the camel’s back.”
Possible alternative solutions included digging another well, and hooking up to the town water supply, which no one is sure is feasible. Brian Wing said, “The closest place we could tie into town water is 800 feet one way, 2,000 feet another way. There are no easy answers.” The situation is also complicated by wetlands behind the school property. The current well at Gateway is 54 years old.
When asked by a school committee member what could be the potential cost of alternative water sources, Dr. Hopson responded that it was still being explored, but would probably be in the “six figures.”
At the meeting, Hopson thanked Wing, water contractors Bernie and Noreen St. Martin, and Bruce Saunders and Joanne Frapier of the custodial staff for all their work on the water main break. He said, “Kudos to everyone who went through that process – a pretty big hole, pretty big rocks.” Wing responded, “I would like to thank everyone for being involved – I couldn’t have done it myself.”

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