Finding clarity in region’s water woes

Submitted photo This photo of a hot tub in Fredonia placed on social media got village users worked up.

Dunkirk’s Department of Public Works employees were being pushed to the limit. In the early morning hours of Aug. 31, a major water-line break on Lake Shore Drive not only closed the main thoroughfare to traffic, it also put the city in disarray.

Working tirelessly, it was up to this crew of 10 people to find and fix the break that is tied to a system that serves some 21,000 residents. During that same morning as residents were waking up, locations throughout the municipality were struggling.

Brooks-TLC Hospital System went two days without water. Dunkirk schools, which opened to teachers Sept. 1, gave staff the option of working at home due to low capacity and pressure levels within the buildings.

By Thursday, Sept. 2, everything seemed to be back to working order. However, all city users — as well as those tied to the North County Water District — were asked to follow a boil-water order for another two days to make sure that no harmful bacteria was present in the system.

Two days later, the boil-water advisory was lifted. But this problem is far from over.

Those who live in Fredonia are all too aware of the issues we face with our deteriorating water systems and challenging infrastructure. Within the past two weeks, village users have complained about brown-colored water and an unpleasant odor tied to their system.

Last week, the Chautauqua County Health Department became involved as its Environmental Health unit determined the village water was safe for customers to consume and use. That still did not sit well with many users.

One village customer noted on social media she filled her hot tub with Fredonia water earlier that week, which began some of the commotion regarding the system. Unfortunately, that luxury item resembled a stagnant pond.

Even those in Mayville, which have had a couple of issues in the last year, have to wonder when it is truly safe to drink and use municipal water.

These inconveniences, however, are the few times when the community is engaged on this important issue. Infrastructure is part of the issue, but stubborn ways of maintaining old and failing systems are another part of the problem.

Earlier this month, Pomfret town Supervisor Dan Pacos made an excellent suggestion that was ignored for the most part by the Chadwick Bay Intermunicipal North County Water District. If something goes wrong in Dunkirk — the main supplier — have the village as a back up.

His idea was not warmly welcomed. Fredonia, which ended any talks of joining the district in 2012, is usually its own worst enemy. It could have been a part of the solution years ago but walked away from talks.

Now when district members hear the village’s name, it is usually quickly dismissed. You can understand some of the animosity, but that does not allow for progress or partnerships.

That was part of Pacos’ plea — and the district needs to get past this. One of their other back-up suppliers, the Erie County Water Authority has had its share of controversy over the years. However, when it comes to producing clean water, there have been few issues with quality.

While our county relies on smaller-scale operations with little staffing, the Erie County Water Authority is responsible for the treatment and distribution of 25 billion gallons of safe, clean, potable water annually to more than 540,000 residential, commercial, and industrial customers in 36 municipalities located within Erie County and parts of Chautauqua, Cattaraugus, western Wyoming and western Genesee counties, as well as the territories of the Seneca Nation of Indians.

Sometimes bigger is better. There’s a potential for more revenues — and larger staffing when an emergency does occur.

With Dunkirk as a main supplier of the North County Water District, there is already a plan for regional use. When will the right time come to look at possibly going to one or two major suppliers within the county?

That is a question for leadership, which would rather take the easy route of the status quo than one of making progress. But taking that route is another water emergency, which usually seems to be right around the corner.

John D’Agostino is the editor of the OBSERVER, The Post-Journal and the Times Observer in Warren, Pa. Send comments to jdagostino@observertoday.com or call 366-3000, ext. 253.


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