Phoenicia Water customers are reconnected after freeze-ups

A worker thawing out the frozen water main at the Bridge Street bridge. (photo by Violet Snow)

A worker thawing out the frozen water main at the Bridge Street bridge. (photo by Violet Snow)

This winter’s subzero temperatures have wrought havoc with water supplies in Phoenicia, but households on the south side of the Esopus Creek are finally receiving town water again through a temporary fire hose link. After a month of using sediment-laden water from a backup well, affected customers are expected to be reprieved from a boil water order as soon as water from the new connection, sampled on two consecutive days, passes Ulster County Department of Health testing.

A series of frozen water mains and broken pipes point up the need for work on the system, said Shandaken supervisor Rob Stanley. The town is in the process of applying for grants to replace an aging pump at the filtration gallery, repair the Bridge Street pipe that was broken by the freeze-up, and establish a long-planned loop that will engage unused pipes across the Woodland Valley Bridge, giving the south side of the district an extra water input.


The problems began when a deep freeze immobilized the Bridge Street water main connecting the hamlet’s reservoir and filtration gallery to the 40 or 50 households on High Street, Station Road, and Lane Street. Fire hose was run across the bridge to replace the main, but another plunge in temperatures froze the water in the hose, while a section of the water main broke off and fell into the creek. The High Street emergency well was put into action, bringing often brownish water, reeking of chlorine, into homes for washing and flushing. High Street resident Robert Burke Warren was impelled to demand information on the town’s timeline for restoring potable water.

After a March 6 meeting with Stanley and Phoenicia Water Commissioner Rick Ricciardella, Warren said, “I appreciate the town’s efforts to cope with the problems caused by the brutal weather.” Stanley explained that the well water had been retested by the county and showed no bacterial contamination, allaying Warren’s fears that the water might be tainted. Following the meeting, Warren sent Stanley an email requesting confirmation of several points.

“The idea is going around that ‘the conservative Town board refuses to pay for High Street’s pipe,’” noted Warren, asking for clarification of the town’s water budget.

In reply, Stanley blamed budget limitations on the state-mandated two percent cap on town tax increases, adding, “It’s also that. They still need to maintain their operating budget, as large mains fail/break, hydrants break, valves fail, etc. [The bigger jobs] would quadruple costs over extended periods of time.”

Due to a mandated need for updated brackets to support pipes under the Bridge Street bridge, the repair job will cost an estimated $150,000. The loop is expected to require $102,000, and bids for the pump came in around $70,000. The Phoenicia water budget for the current year is $158,300.


Waist deep in the snow

As the highway crew was waiting for the weather to break so they could re-establish the fire hose connection, additional problems arose. The main water sources for the district froze up, reducing the available water supply. “Two men hiked up the hill to the sources,” reported Stanley. “They left at 10 a.m. and did not return until 5:30 that evening, after trudging through waist-deep snow. The intakes were frozen in two feet of ice and had to be chopped open.”

On Friday, March 13, it was discovered that rising temperatures had provoked a freeze-and-thaw cycle that severed two pipes on High Street. Water to nearby homes was shut off completely for several hours while workmen dug up and replaced the pipes. At last, the following Monday, hoses were draped across the Bridge Street bridge in preparation for connection to the main where it emerges from the riverbank by the campground. However, the water in the main was still frozen, despite temperatures in the forties. A steam jenny was used to thaw the pipe, and a valve was installed for hooking up the fire hose — but the adapter on hand did not fit the hose. A call went out to local firehouses for the proper fitting, and at last, the hose was installed. Before attaching to a hydrant on the south side of the creek, the hose was flushed through a cake of chlorine to cleanse the interior.

County water tests are underway to certify the water as drinkable, with results possibly in as early as Monday, March 23. Meanwhile, the tap water on High Street is no longer running brown, and normal water pressure has been restored.

The Town of Shandaken Facebook page and the town website,, will announce when the county has approved the water for drinking on the south side of the district.

As Phoenicia Water Board chairman Al Peavy said on Monday, while the crew awaited delivery of the adapter, “These problems are all solvable.”