In an emergency public forum held at the Northborough Town Hall on Tuesday night, representatives from the towns of Northborough and Shrewsbury, as well as the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, met with concerned residents affected by a
Heavy rains that hit the area on March 6 and 7, combined with a heavy snow melt, caused a breach in Shrewsbury's main sewer line, occurring near a manhole between 11 and 15 Thayer St. in Northborough. This portion of the 24-inch sewer pipe extends from the Town of Shrewsbury to a treatment plant in Westborough.
Residents, particularly those living on Thayer Street, say water has been bubbling above the surface and flowing onto their property, and it is particularly threatening to 15 Thayer St., where a private spring-fed pond, dubbed "Thayer Pond" sits in the back.
"I understand it's an old system and nobody planned this," said Tim Dorian, who owns the property at 15 Thayer St., "but it's bubbling out now, and it's going through my yard and going into the pond. It's a nightmare."
Robert Tozeski, Shrewsbury's water and sewer superintendent, said that the DPW will begin work by 7 a.m. on Wednesday morning to correct the problem. The process will involve bypassing 100 percent of the flow in Shrewsbury, chlorinate the water at an old treatment site behind Indian Meadows, and pump the remaining into an existing gravity line on Thayer Rd. that goes over to Marlborough. He said he hopes the job will take between 24 and 36 hours to complete.
"We cannot work until we stop the flow," Tozeski told the some 30 concerned residents. "Since the '80s, Shrewsbury has had a pressurized pipe that heads across the Assabet River and into the Northborough Treatment plant. In times of high flow, a pressurized sewer can let fluid out ... we're going to shut the valves at Indian Meadow Drive and then dig in the road and complete the repair, and then reactivate the lines, and get the flow over to Westborough. We'll have to cut the flow 100 percent, and that's the entire flow for Shrewsbury. It's never been done before."
The typical water flow, explained Tozeski, is 2.5 to 2.8 million gallons a day, whereas the recent rainstorm created a flow of between 10 to 12 million gallons.
"I live right across the street [from the manhole]," said a resident living at 22 Thayer St., "and it's bubbling on my side and coming onto the front lawn. I was concerned this morning that there were no signs that this was raw sewerage. If this happens again, I would hope this would be addressed quicker. I saw a kid running down the street heading for the water."
Other residents expressed concerns about possible contamination.
Representatives from the DEP are working with the town of Shrewsbury to test any affected areas, including seven households that have wells on their property. They will also continue to monitor the situation, testing possibly affected water for coliform, total suspended solids, and ammonia (which is raw sewerage).
Mike Berberian, who owns Berberian Farm at 68 Otis St., also owns a well and uses Smith Pond, which has also taken in some of the overflow of the burst sewer pipe, for irrigation purposes. Among his multitude of questions, he voiced concerns about contamination, testing the pond in the future, as well as the replacement pipe that will be used.
Tozeski said that 60 feet of 30-inch lines is being used to replace the piping, as well as two new manholes.
"We hope the problem is just at the manhole and the immediate vicinity," he said, "but we won't know until we get down there."
Public service announcements have been sent to Shrewbury residents to conserve water in the immediate future to help cut down flow while the problem is being corrected. Health officials also warn that people and animals should stay off the affected lands.
Questions for the DEP can be directed to Paul Anderson at 508-767-2802.
Town Administrator John Coderre also urged concerned residents to call his office with questions at 508-393-5040. A list of contact information was compiled for residents affected by the break, and will be updated. Coderre also said the town's Web site will include updates on the home page.
"We're trying to be as responsive as we can," Coderre said.