SKOWHEGAN — A do-not-drink order has been issued for the Skowhegan Water System after a contamination concern was detected Thursday, officials said.

About 6,000 residents townwide have been affected, according to a news release late Thursday night from Maine Center for Disease Control & Prevention.

Residents were asked by state officials not to use water for drinking, making ice cubes, food preparation, brushing teeth or any other activity involving consumption of water. Instead, bottled water should be consumed.

The water can be used for nonconsumption purposes, including bathing, laundry and dishwashing. The odor is described as being soap-like.

On Friday, residents headed to the Skowhegan Community Center on Poulin Drive around lunchtime to pick up bottled water, according to Maine Water President Rick Knowlton. Water was to be distributed until 7 p.m. on Friday, and the distribution will resume on Saturday and Sunday from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m.

The problem with the water was detected late Thursday afternoon when Maine Water Co.’s Skowhegan Division notified Maine CDC’s Drinking Water Program of a complaint from a customer of an unusual taste and odor coming from the faucet.

“Upon confirming the customer’s report at a nearby hydrant and observing a sheen on the surface of the two small ponds that supply water to the treatment plant, Maine CDC issued a Do Not Drink Order for all customers of the water system,” the release said.

Poland Spring delivers 1,080 cases of water Friday to the Skowhegan Community Center for distribution to residents. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

Maine Water Co. is working with Maine CDC’s Drinking Water Program and Maine Department of Environmental Protection to investigate the cause of the sheen on the surface of the supply ponds.

The ponds used by Maine Water Co. draw water from the Kennebec River. Currently, the ponds are disconnected from the system and only the river is being used to bring water into the treatment plant.

On Friday morning, Knowlton said there was no reason to believe that the problem arose from an intentional act.

Water samples are being collected for laboratory testing and more information is expected Friday, the release said. Maine DEP is assisting in the efforts to inspect the watershed and also investigate other possible sources of contamination. Additionally, Maine Water is working with the state’s health environmental lab to sample the water and analyze it.

“It is important for customers to know that we have no knowledge of any illnesses or negative health effects of any kind,” Knowlton said. “There is no evidence that what’s in the water is harmful. It’s simply the lack of knowledge of what it is. That is why we issued the do-not-drink order. We understand the inconvenience.”

Knowlton said that customers could begin picking up bottled water at the Skowhegan Community Center around lunchtime Friday.

Knowlton said that Skowhegan’s water system includes two spring-fed ponds at the Water Treatment Facility on Heselton Street. This has been the source of water since the 1930s, he added.

A contamination fence sits atop the surface of one of Skowhegan’s drinking water ponds Friday at Maine Water Co. near Water Works Drive in Skowhegan. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

Right now, water is being pulled from the Kennebec River to flush millions of gallons of water through to clear out the contamination, which will take a few days. He expects the do-not-drink order to be lifted on Monday.

Maine School Administrative District 54 Superintendent Jon Moody issued a late Thursday night notice to parents notifying them that all in-town schools would close.

Those affected schools are Bloomfield Elementary, Margaret Chase Smith School, North Elementary School, Skowhegan Area Middle School, Skowhegan Area High School, Marti Stevens Learning Center and Somerset Career and Technical Center.

Mill Stream Elementary in Norridgewock and Canaan Elementary were to remain open Friday, Moody said.

“This decision came on the heels of a call I received from Maine Water late this evening,” Moody said in the letter Thursday night. “We decided not to do remote learning for our in-town Skowhegan schools because of the late notice and impact on staff, and because the district’s red plan, which shifts the structure of the day in the event of fully remote learning, was just distributed and could have potentially caused additional confusion.”

The day will be treated as a snow day, Moody said, and staff were not asked to come in.


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