Woodstock residents couldn't drink their water for 11 days after last week's flooding
Many communities across Vermont are now recovering from recent catastrophic floods — but some of them remained without basic resources for many days.
In the Windsor County town of Woodstock, a swollen Ottauquechee River produced significant problems for the local water system, forcing people there to navigate a “do not drink” notice. As of Wednesday, July 19, it was the only municipality in the state where residents couldn't at least boil water before drinking, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
As of the evening of Thursday, July 20, Woodstock announced that water at the Woodstock Aqueduct was back on and safe to drink.
Following tests, the town's do not drink and boil water notices were lifted. It was a total of 11 days that Vermont's historic flooding left Woodstock residents without potable water.
Town officials are continuing to urge residents to practice water conservation, as the tank levels remain low. High water usage will cause the tank levels to plummet, requiring more extreme action.
Reporter Frances Mize has been following this story for the Valley News. Her conversation with Vermont Public's Jenn Jarecki below has been edited and condensed for clarity, and a note, it took place on Wednesday, July 19, before Woodstock residents could drink their water again.
Jenn Jarecki: Woodstock residents can't drink their water nor can they use it to cook or wash dishes, even if it's boiled. But there was a less restrictive boil notice in place immediately after the flooding. Can you describe the initial damage to Woodstock's water system, and then share what happened that led to the complete do not drink notice that's in place now?
Frances Mize: Woodstock went on a boil notice last Monday as flooding started to eat up the town and interfered with the Woodstock Aqueduct Company's water system. Woodstock Aqueduct supplies water to 800 residents and businesses in town and runs from east to west Woodstock. Starting Monday, residents had to boil their water for 60 seconds in order to drink it, and most people resort to bottled water. But then on Friday, the notice was updated to a "do not drink" order.
There was concern that that the fire hoses that were run from hydrant to hydrant to restore pressure to the system on Monday weren't certified as safe for drinking water. The state's Department of Environmental Conservation was also concerned that the hoses contained PFAS, also known as forever chemicals. It's a harmful compound of chemicals that that can have a series of lasting impacts on the human body. It's found in a wide range of regularly used human objects, including fire hoses. Especially fire hoses, actually. So, the "do not drink" notice will remain in effect until it's determined that the water system has resumed normal operation and they've collected water quality samples that demonstrate the water is safe to drink.
Additionally, Tuesday, the National Guard, which has been distributing drinking water throughout Vermont since the flooding, also agreed to assist in bringing the Woodstock Aqueduct Company a long pipe that it needed for repairs to the system from Springfield, Massachusetts. But there was a transportation snafu and the pipe ended up getting cut in half — meaning that connecting the pipes will take twice as long as usual. So that pushed their schedule back a day or so.
Nearby Royalton is also dealing with its own water issues. Can you tell us about the situation there?
Royalton is one of the only towns in the state to rely on a river, and they use the White River as their primary source of municipal drinking water. As floodwaters decreased water quality in the White River, suspended sediment and other debris in the river increased — a criteria known as the river's turbidity. The Royalton wastewater management system has been struggling since then to sort of come up with the magic level of chlorination that makes that water, which has been impeded by flood debris, safe to drink as well. So Royalton is on a boil notice.
Based on your reporting, Francis, can you help us better understand what Woodstock residents are going through right now? How are they dealing with these difficulties on top of all the other work needed to recover from the flooding?
I spoke with Deanna Jones, who is the executive director of the Thompson Senior Center in Woodstock. She said that the "do not drink" order had really interrupted operations there. They serve lunch there every day, and now they're having to do that on paper plates out of the parking lot at the Saskadena Six ski resort in neighboring Pomfret, which is owned by the Woodstock Inn and Resort. And they've also moved their Meals on Wheels production to the kitchen in the lodge there at Saskadena Six.
In the meantime, the swimming pool at the Woodstock Recreation Center is open, but the showers are closed. Rising water levels last week also really severely flooded a secondary building there at the Recreation Center. I think they were inundated with 3 to 4 feet of water. And people have been banging on their door wanting to shower there because of their water access. But so far, the Woodstock Recreation Center hasn't been able to open up to users beyond the pool, which is actually still open.
The Valley News reported that pipe repairs could be finished a couple hours after we record this, Francis, on Wednesday. Can you break down those repairs for us and then share what's next for Woodstock?
I'm not totally sure about the logistics of those pipe repairs. But once they are completed, hopefully by the end of Wednesday, then the Woodstock Aqueduct Company will send water samples off to a lab on Thursday. And if those samples are in the the clear for chlorine and bacteria levels in the samples, that will hopefully be returned on Friday. Then Woodstock will hopefully get its water back.
Nathaniel Wilson contributed reporting to this story.
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Flooding recovery assistance and other key resources
- To apply for federal financial assistance, visit disasterassistance.gov or call 1-800-621-3362.
- Is your community under a boil-water notice? Find a statewide list here.
- For state road closure information, visit newengland511.org or @511VT on Twitter. To check the status of your town's local roads, consult your town website or social media.
- School activities and child care program closures are collected here.
- Find the latest forecasts and water levels for specific rivers from the National Weather Service.
- Are you returning to flooded property? Get tips on what to expect and how to stay safe while cleaning your home or car and how to deal with trash and debris.
- Here are tips for avoiding scams that can crop up after a disaster.
- Flood safety tips have been translated into 16 languages here.
- The Vermont Professionals of Color Network is connecting BIPOC Vermonters with recovery assistance.
- Business owners can find tips and resources from Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility.
- To find more resources, visit vermont.gov/flood, vermont211.org or call Vermont 2-1-1.
- You can also report flood damage to 2-1-1 to help the state gather data, according to Vermont Emergency Management. (If you are a homeowner, you should also contact your insurance company.)
- The Vermont Agency of Agriculture has provided a resource page for farmers.
- Find the latest guidance about how to help with recovery.