Water Infrastructure Failures in Local Communities, and Efforts to Address Their Causes

Over the next month, Clean Water Weekly is going to take a local approach highlighting water news stories from various parts of America. Water infrastructure is important, and it is failing in every area of the country. No one – in no area of our country – is immune to America’s water infrastructure struggles. We will highlight water infrastructure failures in communities around the U.S., as well as local and state initiatives intended to address the causes of those failures. We think the incidents below and the efforts some local governments are making to prevent them in the future showcase the critical need for funds targeted to water infrastructure projects, and the consequences of continuing to ignore that need.

Oklahoma

Oklahoma has experienced water main breaks all over the state in the last couple of months. To cite just a few:

. In December a water main break in northwest Oklahoma City sent water spewing above houses in a residential neighborhood.

. On January 13, a break in a 6 inch water main forced a water shutdown in southeast Oklahoma City, leaving residents and business owners without water for most of a day. The break occurred at 6:30 a.m., and the nearly three feet of water on South Byers Avenue wrought havoc for local residents’ morning commutes and caused substantial loss to local businesses’ profitability.

. On February 3, a water line break and resulting road damage shut down a Norman, Oklahoma street for nearly two days, creating the need for extensive detours and severely disrupting residents’ personal lives and livelihoods.

New York

It has been a difficult few weeks for residents of Long Island, New York. Residents of the Town and Village of Nassau experienced seven water main breaks in the past week alone. A Nassau Village official estimated that the village has spent almost $200,000 fixing the water main breaks. And water main breaks in East Northport, Port Jefferson, West Babylon and West Islip all caused recent water shutdowns. In East Northport, for example, the emergency repair was to a main on Grover Lane, affecting more than 25 residences. In West Babylon, the main was on 18th Street (affecting roughly 30 residences) due to needed repair of a water main on 18th Street. These shutdowns resulted in hardship for residents of an area already struggling through a historically harsh winter.

But executive action promises to address some of these problems. In October New York Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced a series of actions to bolster coastal resiliency against future storms on Long Island by improving local water quality and reducing harmful nitrogen pollution. Superstorm Sandy had a significant impact on Long Island’s wastewater treatment facilities and highlighted how vulnerable the region’s bays and salt marshes are to excessive nitrogen pollution. To help address these recovery needs, the Cuomo administration identified $383 million in funding for proposed sewer projects in Suffolk County and committed to advance $97 million to Nassau County for upgrades to the Bay Park sewage treatment plant. Suffolk County will be the first to receive funding under this program: $13.6 million in wastewater and storm resiliency improvements at the Bergen Point Sewage Treatment Plant. The loan is made up of a $3.2 million grant and $10.4 million in no-interest financing for Suffolk County.

Ohio

Ohio has had its share of water infrastructure problems in recent weeks. On February 4, for example, two water main breaks in Howland Township forced a “boil water” advisory for water customers. Boil water advisories are notifications issued to residents in areas experiencing actual or possible bacterial water contamination resulting from infrastructure failures such as overflowing pipes or broken water mains. Local governments issue these advisories warning residents not to consume or use water until further notice.

But Ashtabula County provides an example of an infrastructure project that will pay dividends for decades to come. In response to a sewer system study which evaluated the aging wastewater collection and treatment system for the Village of Geneva on the Lake, the Ashtabula County Department of Environmental Services partnered with the village to replace the sanitary and waterlines along Lake Road. The project includes replacing over 1,300 feet of waterline replacement, sanitary line renewal along Lake Road and Putnam and North Grandview. In undertaking this project, County officials recognized the cost and disruption of breaks in this antiquated section of the Village’s sewer system, which dates back to the late 1920s, and the critical need for its replacement. The village and the County DES are partners on the project, which is expected to be completed by May 15.

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About Clean Water Council

The Clean Water Council (CWC) is a group of national organizations representing underground construction contractors design professionals, manufacturers and suppliers, labor unions and other committed to ensuring a high quality of life through sound environmental infrastructure. Working in concert, CWC's 39 national organizations, advocate federal legislation and policies that will promote clean water and improve the nation's failing infrastructure.​
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