The advisory was declared last week because of the extreme cold weather, which froze underground springs and caused a water shortage in the town's main water system, forcing the district to turn to a backup system. The water district serves about 950 households, as well as the Phoenicia Elementary School.
The backup system relies on a pumphouse on High Street, which was flooded by the Esopus Creek during the Irene floods, raising the possibility of contamination. Water from the backup system was chlorinated, but the district issued the boil-water advisory as a precaution, on an order from the Ulster County Board of Health.
The lifting of the order should come as a relief to Phoenicia residents, who have been expecting to have to boil their water for weeks. Water commissioner Rick Ricciardella told the Times Herald-Record last week that the boil-water advisory could last awhile:
"This could go another 2-3 weeks if we don't start getting some warmer weather," Ricciardella said.
According to Weather Underground, it's currently 32 degrees in Phoenicia. Not exactly barbecue weather, but compared to the last couple of weeks, it's practically a heat wave.
Getting the main system to function again required some human intervention as well, Ricciardella told the Watershed Post. A drain leading from the district's Smith Reservoir to a 175,000-gallon holding tank had frozen and clogged.
"I had the guys up there, and they got it moving," Ricciardella said. "Still, in the plant here, I've got drains that are frozen. Drains that go to the filters. I've got drains for the pumps that pump to the mains that are frozen. It's a mess. I've never seen it like this."
The bitter cold has taken a toll, but so far, Ricciardella said, the district is still doing better than it was during a legendary cold snap in the mid-1970s when the water mains froze five or six feet below ground. If that happens, he said, not even the backup system can flow.
"God forbid the mains freeze like they did in '75. They had to get welders in to try to unfreeze the mains," he said.