The townwide drinking water ban will continue into at least Thursday morning while officials wait for results from a test of the water supply.
The ban, put into place as a precaution against potential contamination, caused some restaurants to close and forced residents to find clean water to drink, brush their teeth or prepare their food.
Meanwhile, Police Chief Joseph Ferreira said he expects to file charges against the company that hooked into a fire hydrant for hydroseeding off Brayton Avenue, which caused the material to back into the public water supply. The company, Hydrograss Technologies, did not have permission to use the public hydrants and could be charged with larceny of town water and wanton injury to property, he said.
“I don't think anyone intended to do this,” Ferreira said. Hydrograss Technology's president, Robert Arello Jr., did not return a call seeking comment.
Volunteers at the emergency management building at 2435 Riverside Ave. handed out cases of bottled water to residents Tuesday night and all day Wednesday, and expected to start again first thing Thursday morning.
More than 3,500 cases of water — each with 24 bottles — had been handed out by mid-afternoon Wednesday, officials said. The first shipment late Tuesday was unloaded by hand. Each shipment was quickly depleted as cars lined up along the road on and off throughout the day.
Town officials said they were being very cautious by telling residents not to consume tap water, and there was no sign that anyone had become sick. Town officials weren't sure what chemicals might be present in the water, though the seed mix does contain some fertilizer.
Fire hydrants around the bridge were flushed immediately, Somerset Emergency Management Director Stephen Rivard said, and at least one hydrant on Brayton Avenue was still being flushed Wednesday afternoon.
“I'm very comfortable that we did the right thing early on,” Rivard said.
Volunteers handed out water, businesses donated food for volunteers, and many were happy to contribute, he said. “Everyone's chipping in.”
Somerset will not be liable for costs related to the ban, officials said. The cost of water alone was estimated at around $20,000. Hydrograss Technologies or the general contractor for the Veterans Memorial Bridge project, Ciantro Middlesex, will pay those costs, they said.
Water test results won't be received until Thursday morning, Water Department Superintendent Robert Lima said. Until then, the ban will continue.
Businesses were impacted in different ways.
The Rise Cafe on County Street had closed for the day, as did Ma Raffa's. Only a few hundred feet away, Domino's Pizza remained open.
“It's nothing major,” manager Jason Clarke said. Employees were filling sinks with bottled water to clean dishes and pans, he said.
Further up the street, Cuppers Cafe was open, but business was slow. Owner Mark Ulrich brought bottles of water to use for making coffee and had to use coffee makers from home because the machines at the cafe were hardwired to use tap water.
“It's working out OK,” Ulrich said. “It won't be our busiest day ever, but it's better than being closed.”
The Dunkin' Donuts at the North End Plaza was closed, but the Route 6 location remained open. Minerva's Bar & Grill in the same plaza was open, but wasn't serving fountain sodas.
Gus Skarpos, the owner of Gus' Pizza on South Street, never had any doubt about staying open.
“Of course we're still open,” he said. The store bought gallons of water for making sauce and dough and brewing coffee, but Skarpos never considered closing.
“It's no big deal,” he said with a shrug.
Somerset schools made sure that no students would drink tap water, Superintendent Richard Medeiros said.
Water bubblers at all six schools were shut off, and cafeterias were using disposable plateware and utensils to avoid potential contamination.
Automated phone messages went out Tuesday night to let parents know the schools were taking precautions. Students and staff were urged to take bottles of water from home, and cafeterias were using bottled water when necessary.
“We're up and running, business as usual,” Medeiros said Wednesday morning. He described the ban as having “very little impact” on the schools.
Not all Somerset residents received reverse-911 calls announcing the ban Tuesday night, and many Comcast customers outside of town received a notice even though they weren't affected.
The automated phone call system goes through the Plymouth County Sheriff's Office, Ferreira said, and not all residents were included in a list provided to the office by telephone providers. Residents of the 02725 ZIP code, generally south of Route 6, weren't notified, nor were those whose numbers are unlisted, Ferreira said.
The chief estimated that 80 percent of residents received the call.
Residents can sign up to receive notices on their cell phones or by email by visiting www.pcsdma.org/communicator.asp.
Comcast customers in Somerset and 20 other towns may have also seen three alerts from Lima, the Water Department superintendent, broadcast Tuesday. Technology did not allow only Somerset customers to be alerted to the ban, Ferreira said.
Email Grant Welker at firstname.lastname@example.org.