By Karen Zautyk
The first time we drove past the township well on Vincent Place, we thought it was a horse trough and, thus, it mystified us, horses being somewhat scarce in these parts.
When this was mentioned to Dr. Joseph Scarpelli, Commissioner of Public Works, he sounded slightly appalled. “A horse trough?” he repeated, with just a hint of pity for the clueless person (me) who so described it.
Hey! (Hay?) I was new to the area, coming from Brooklyn, where there were no wells at all, as far as I knew. (But it did have more horses). A large rectangular metal bin holding water reminds me of a horse trough.
The commissioner’s reaction was indicative of the affection with which Nutleyites hold the well. And rightly so. For it has been producing clear, clean, cold water for the residents’ consumption for nearly three decades. Water that I am told is better than anything sold in stores. And it is absolutely free.
At no matter what hour you passed the site, no matter what time of year, it seemed that there was always someone, or several someones, at the pump, filling up containers and loading them into their car.
But all this ended in June. The well has been closed since then, much to the consternation of residents. Especially those who may have been away for the summer and are returning to find a “dry” town.
The good news? Scarpelli told us that there is an Oct. 1 target date to have the well “up and running” again. And that’s only a month away.
The well was shut down, Scarpelli explained, after the underground holding tank began leaking, “causing the pump to pump continually, which kept blowing the fuses.”
It was apparent that this would not be a quick fix.
The tank predates the public well – just off Chestnut St., next to Town Hall. Before residents were given access to it, about 30 years ago, its water supply had been used to irrigate The Oval.
The old tank, located 104 feet below ground, was “larger than what we needed” for its current function, Scarpelli said. So it has been decommissioned and is being replaced. Additionally, the tank and pump were using “old technology,” and that is being replaced with upgraded, modern equipment.
The commissioner did not have a final price tag, but the work is being done by the Nutley Water Department, not some outside contractor.
Before the well’s reopening, the water will have to be tested, but that’s just standard procedure. The town does monthly testing on all its drinking water, including the well’s, which is double-filtered, Scarpelli said. And where does the well water come from? “Aquifers,” the commissioner said. We thought we knew what that meant – an underground stream or pond or something – but we didn’t.
The definition of an “aquifer”: “an underground layer of waterbearing permeable rock or unconsolidated materials (i.e., gravel, sand) from which groundwater can be extracted using a water well.”
And where does the groundwater come from? Somewhere in the northern Essex County hinterlands. It flows into Nutley along a southerly below-ground route.
As for the popularity of the well, that is indicated by the number of people who have been calling the commissioner to inquire about its being closed.
We asked if he had gotten many complaints, and he chuckled. “I’ve gotten so many complaints, I wish it were up and running already,” he said. “There are constant calls.”
Part of the reason is that the rehab work has taken longer than expected, Scarpelli noted. “But I’m glad it took a little bit of time,” he said. “It allowed us to rethink what we were going to do.”
Initially, the idea was to expand the underground system, but the town found that putting part of it above ground is more functional. And that, the commissioner said, makes the whole project “less expensive.”
And, he added, “Hopefully, my timetable is correct so my phone stops ringing.”
Oh, yes. One more thing. The town is “looking to redesign” that above-ground tank that catches the overflow water.
“It should be little more esthetically pleasing,” Scarpelli said. “So it doesn’t look like a horse trough.”