In a little over a month’s time, Revere went from fighting off water to fighting for water.
Saturday’s major water infrastructure break involving a 120-inch pipe in Weston at the MWRA treatment plant put a boil water advisory in effect for most of the Greater Boston area, including Revere – leaving drinking water in demand and prompting a federal disaster declaration from President Barack Obama on Monday.
Ironically, that came about a month after another federal disaster had been declared here, except the previous disaster was linked to too much water rather than too little water. For those who have forgotten, the previous disaster concerned the heavy rains and horrible flooding that took place in March.
While state and MWRA officials were sweating bullets last weekend and early this week trying to get the upper hand on the water problem, local officials in Revere also sprung into action.
Fire Chief Gene Doherty assumed command as the city’s emergency management director and began coordinating local efforts.
A reverse 9-1-1 call went out to all residents Saturday evening, and officials gathered for a planning meeting on Sunday afternoon.
Doherty said that initial efforts were aimed at helping to alert people about the water problem and also instructing them on the do’s and don’ts of the order – such as no brushing teeth with tap water or not preparing baby formula with tap water.
At the meeting on Sunday, officials decided that they would distribute water to the public on Monday.
Acting Mayor Tony Zambuto said that Mayor Tom Ambrosino – who is in Florida on vacation – was heavily involved in the process via telephone.
“The meeting was really to decide whether or not we were going to distribute water,” said Zambuto. “The mayor sent a directive from Florida that he did want to take up the state’s offer [to send out water]. It was his call. I don’t know if I would have given it out, but it was the mayor’s call.”
Doherty, firefighters and members of the Board of Health set up shop Monday morning at the Showcase Cinemas and took delivery of 5,000 gallons of Poland Spring drinking water from the National Guard. They distributed that water in about three hours, as Revere residents with identification collected the water in their cars.
“Thank you so much,” said numerous grateful residents as they pulled through the Showcase and members of the Fire Department, Police Department, DPW and Health Department loaded fresh water into their vehicles.
Meanwhile, Joe Maglione, the city’s licensed water facilities director, had his crew out conducting water quality testing at 15 sites citywide.
“On Sunday morning we began taking water quality samples and we did two rounds throughout the city,” he said. “We tested here for chlorine residual to make sure the chlorine was getting through to the water in Revere and then we sent those samples on to the MWRA lab for further testing.”
Maglione, a 20-plus year veteran in the city’s Water Department, said he had really seen nothing comparable to this water emergency.
“I’ve never seen anything to this extent, nothing to my knowledge like this has happened,” he said. “I’ve seen emergencies, but nothing to this magnitude.”
Maglione said he has a lot of inroads with MWRA personnel, as he has worked with them for many years, and he said they did an excellent job in dealing with the situation.
“I have to commend how fast the MWRA went on this,” said Maglione. “I know how hard it is to repair these things, and we only deal with something as big as a 16-inch pipe. Think of the Revere Beach Parkway pipe we always work on and imagine that 10 times larger.
“The MWRA did an excellent job with public relations, notification, and getting the job done,” he continued. “People say a lot about the MWRA, but they did the job this time.”
Meanwhile, a whole other set of circumstances unfolded in preparing for school to resume on Monday.
Superintendent Paul Dakin said he put out an automated call to all parents and staff Sunday that advised them of school being open and suggested that kids bring a few bottles of water with them.
“In one school they estimated that 90 percent of the kids brought in their own water,” said Dakin. “Drinking water wasn’t such a big deal. Little kids don’t drink a lot of water and the older kids are used to buying it at school. That wasn’t really as big a problem as cleaning and food preparation. The big concern for us was planning for food service and food preparation.”
He said that Chartwell’s staff decided not to offer salad until the boil order had been lifted, and he also said that by 6:30 a.m. on Monday, the cafeteria workers had boiled and stored 100 gallons of water.
Lunch service on Monday went off without a hitch by all accounts.
Dakin said there were also some minor adjustments to things like water fountains – cordoning them off or shutting them off. Likewise, ice machines were emptied and shut down.
In the end, the boil order was lifted and the emergency came to an end very early on Tuesday morning, with Gov. Deval Patrick making the announcement at the MWRA operations center in Chelsea.