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State of emergency declared after water main break in Watertown leaves the city without water

Lt. Governor Antonio Delgado speaks at a news conference in Watertown Thursday, October 19, 2023.
Lt. Governor Antonio Delgado speaks at a news conference in Watertown Thursday, October 19, 2023.

Updated Thursday, October 19 at 7:30 p.m.

A state of emergency is in effect in Jefferson County after a major water main break early Thursday left more than 45,000 homes and businesses without water.

During a news conference Thursday evening, Watertown Mayor Jeff Smith said a 12-foot section of pipe split shortly after midnight Thursday morning. That pipe was located near the city's water treatment plant, meaning most of the water coming from the plant leaked from the broken pipe. It took until early afternoon for crews to access the break.

"They couldn't get into the hole because of the amount of water that was coming out," Smith said. "There is [electrical] wires, there is gas lines so until that could be identified, and the water basically drained from the system, they couldn't get in there."

Smith said the goal was to have the broken pipe replaced late Thursday night, but water will not be available for some time.

"After that what they have to do is pressurize the system," said Smith. "That's going to take 24-36 hours."

Smith said pressurizing the system is likely to cause more breaks in the 50-60-year-old pipes. But once the system is pressurized, the work isn't over.

"After that, it's going to be 48-72 hours of a boil water emergency. We're hoping by Saturday or Sunday at the latest to have the reservoirs and the system filled, and then another 2-3 days after that where you'll have to boil water."

Many businesses in Watertown will be closed Friday because of the lack of water. Watertown City School and Immaculate Heart School will also be closed Friday.

The water main break isn't just affecting the city of Watertown. People in the towns of Champion, Leray, Watertown and Pamelia also use the city's water supply.

New York state is providing more than 32,000 gallons of water and 11 water tankers. The city and state have set up several water distribution centers around the city, at the following locations.

  • Jefferson County Fairgrounds, 970 Coffeen St, Watertown, NY 13601
  • Watertown High School, 1335 Washington St, Watertown, NY 13601
  • State Street and Eastern Blvd., Watertown, NY 13601

Each location will be open until 10 p.m. Thursday, and will reopen at 7 a.m. Friday. Each resident will be able to get a case of bottled or canned water for free, and will be able to fill one or two containers with both potable and non-potable water.

Fort Drum is assisting the city with water distribution. The Army base shares water with the city, but it also has its own well system.

"We have about 16,000,000 gallons, and that just sits in our system and we're able to pull much more than that," said Fort Drum Garrison Commander Col. Matt Myer. "Nobody should be without water. We will be able to provide it for you until the taps get turned back on."

Samaritan Medical Center in Watertown closed several departments Thursday because of a lack of water. Officials say they have canceled most appointments for surgical patients, outpatient procedures, and all specialty clinics. But patients at the hospital and in nursing homes continue to have water and are stable.

Jason has served as WRVO's news director in some capacity since August 2017. As news director, Jason produces hourly newscasts, and helps direct local news coverage and special programming. Before that, Jason hosted Morning Edition on WRVO from 2009-2019. Jason came to WRVO in January of 2008 as a producer/reporter. Before that, he spent two years as an anchor/reporter at WSYR Radio in Syracuse.