The investigation into the water main collapse that left about 285,000 people in 22 communities dry in late June deepens.

The New Jersey Board of Public Utilities today ordered New Jersey American Water to retain a Special Reliability Master to look into structural factors that might have contributed to the Swimming River Pipe Bridge collapse in Lincroft.

The incident caused the severing of all three water conduits supported by the bridge, resulting in a Monmouth County-wide emergency, shutdown of the water treatment plant, boil advisories, outdoor water bans, low pressure and, for some, complete loss of service.

BPU ordered the company to appoint Jerry J. Notte, of the Water Business Group at Parsippany-based CH2M Hill.

He'll be expected to evaluate New Jersey American's operating and maintenance routines since 2000; circumstances leading to the collapse; the company's response to Hurricane Irene's damage to the bridge in 2011, including post-storm inspection; and its priorities in completing bridge repairs.

In a statement, board President Robert Hanna noted that an SRM conversant with pipe and bridge infrastructure is necessary to determine the bridge's condition prior to the collapse, and in turn whether the company acted in a timely and appropriate way after being notified of damage inflicted by Hurricane Irene.

Hanna says the SRM will be looking at "what New Jersey American knew about what Hurricane Irene had done to the structure and whether it acted appropriately and did they take appropriate steps and act quickly enough to remedy whatever those impacts were."

According to Hanna, "the Special Master will also be looking at the actions that New Jersey American took after the collapse to make sure they acted in a responsible manner in getting the fixes put in and communicating with the public."

Information from the board says that New Jersey American admitted storm-related impacts to the bridge and pipes but was reassured by an engineering firm it hired that both were capable of service. The collapse occurred before a company-funded engineering project for bridge repairs could begin.

The board expects Notte's completed report by November 15.