Water concerns spill out in village

Addressing widespread recent reports of discoloration and odor in Fredonia’s water, the village mayor and the chief of its water system asserted this week it is safe to use.

Mayor Douglas Essek opened a Board of Trustees workshop by acknowledging the water issues. “I’ve had several calls and complaints about the smell and taste and color of our water,” he said, encouraging communication from community members about occurrences like that. “Let us know when there are issues so we can address them … I would like to say social media is not an appropriate channel for communication because we don’t monitor Facebook or any other social media sites.”

He said the public should call 911 if they feel they are having a dangerous situation with the water, and listed village office phone numbers for non-emergency issues. Essek then asked Chris Surma, who heads up Fredonia’s water system, to address the board and the public on the issues.

Surma began by noting the treatment plant has been at half-capacity in processing water due to its ongoing project. That means village workers are not able to properly flush the lines. He added that a leak in July “stressed the plant to where we almost got out of compliance, but we didn’t.”

He continued that a record-hot August and the surge in population from returning SUNY Fredonia students also stressed the system. When a second clarifier goes online Friday, it should help alleviate the problems, he added.

“We do all of our regulatory samples, the Health Department is always checking in with us, and of course we report to them every month. We do all of our regulatory analysis. Everything has been below maximum contaminant levels,” Surma said. “There’s really no worry as far as health hazards in the water.”

He added, “If the public can kind of just be patient with us for a little longer, this has been a long road for two years here with this project, and years before that in planning. Going and getting five dollar test kits over at Home Depot and saying that you have heavy metals in the water, and all that stuff, that’s not how we run business here. It’s all certified by Health Department laboratories, environmental laboratory approval programs check all of our data. These labs are certified.”

Directly addressing the rumors of heavy metals in the water, he added that a recent round of 60 random tests found a slightly elevated level of lead in just one place, with no more elevated metal levels anywhere else.

Surma admitted the situation with the foul water “is discouraging” but thought it would improve soon. He again suggested hot weather helped mess up the water. “The only thing that likes heat that smells good, is flowers,” he said.

Trustee EvaDawn Bashaw asked Surma if the recent back-and-forth with Dunkirk’s water system, where the village first bought water from the city, then quickly started selling water back to it after a catastrophic main break there on Aug. 31, contributed to the problems.

“Truthfully, we don’t know,” he said. “This is the first year we’ve actually had that system in place.” However, he doubted that any issues from the water transfers would go beyond the area near the Dunkirk boundary.

Bashaw also asked if chlorination levels or processes had anything to do with the problems. Surma denied that. “Any chemical change is always approved by the Health Department, we can’t just willy-nilly add different chemicals or squeeze lemons into it to make it taste better or anything like that,” he said.

Trustee Roger Britz emphasized the importance of the second clarifier. “This would allow us to produce more water where the street crews can go out and do more flushing like we normally do… it would offer the opportunity to clear a lot of this stuff out of our lines,” he said. “We just gotta get back to a normal flow and operation.” He promised that the years of updates to the treatment plant “is gonna pay off.”

Scott Marsh, Department of Public Works superintendent, said his workers can do local flushing for streets where there are complaints. “If we get a complaint, whatever street you’re on, we’ll come out and we’ll try to flush it. As soon as we get up to full capacity at the plant, we’ll do a thorough flush and hopefully things will get back to normal,” he said.

Essek concluded the discussion by saying, “Our water is safe. Our water is safe to drink and use … if it’s an issue we need to know about, please contact us via phone, in person or in email.”


Today's breaking news and more in your inbox

I'm interested in (please check all that apply)
Are you a paying subscriber to the newspaper? *


Starting at $4.62/week.

Subscribe Today