Water main break raises questions of aging lines

Posted at 6:35 PM, Jul 21, 2016
and last updated 2016-07-21 18:35:10-04

A major water main break has several towns under a boil water notice and the Erie County Water Authority (ECWA) is pointing to an outdated, crumbling infrastructure as the cause.  The pipe that broke in Amherst was installed more than 60 years ago, before the current water authority took over in 1949.

Earl Jann, commissioner of the ECWA, blamed the age of the pipe for the break that left thousands without water Wednesday night.

"We no longer use that kind of pipe and have not used that kind of pipe for many years," he explained.

But at least 22 miles of that type of pipe runs underground as part of the county's water system.  Jann says replacing one mile of the pipe costs almost $2 million.

U.S. Senator Charles Schumer was in Buffalo Thursday and said a lot of improvements need to be made.  He said having clean drinking water shouldn't be thought of as a "luxury".

"It's unacceptable in the 21st century that many New Yorkers have to boil their water before drinking," he said.  "It's even more troubling that water main breaks are becoming more and more frequent."

The ECWA explained that in the past decade the number of water main breaks in a given year has doubled.  In 2006, they handled about 600 breaks.  Now they see around 1200 breaks each year.

But County Executive Mark Poloncarz thinks improvements need to be made to more than the infrastructure.  He had trouble reaching out to the separately operated ECWA to get details during the water main break.

"I was like everybody else that was hearing reports on social media and elsewhere," he said.  "I made some phone calls myself.  My initial calls I couldn't get through.  Just like everyone else I had trouble."

Poloncarz called on the ECWA to update the public and his office more often during situations like that.  He also hopes a better system of communication can be figured out between the Executive's office and the ECWA for future incidents.