By Melanie Lekocevic
Capital Region Independent Media
ALBANY — Funding and expertise for water and sewer infrastructure are sorely needed in New Baltimore and other area communities, New Baltimore Town Supervisor Jeff Ruso told lawmakers at a legislative forum hosted by state Sen. Michelle Hinchey, D-46.
The forum focused on examining the challenges facing New York communities with regard to drinking water, wastewater and stormwater infrastructure.
A bipartisan panel of state legislators spoke with representatives from local government, labor, environmental and conservation groups, and professional associations to identify long-term solutions for the infrastructure issues facing communities.
Ruso spoke of a major water main break that affected a small group of New Baltimore water users, but cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to repair.
“On the evening of June 1, 2020, right in the middle of the [COVID-19] pandemic, I got a call late at night because we had a water main break for our District 2,” Ruso said. “District 2 serves 32 homes. District 2 gets its water from the village of Coxsackie, who bills the town, and we in turn bill the users. The water main break was under the New York State Thruway, southbound lane. In the middle of the pandemic, in the middle of the night, the break could not have been in a worse place or a worse time.”
The town declared a state of emergency, brought in tankers to provide water to the residents, and the break — which also damaged the Thruway roadway — took months to fix.
“We replaced the pipe — it was 100-plus-years-old. It cost $330,000 for 32 users. That’s a lot of money, and of course my constituents are none too happy,” Ruso said.
The only section of the pipe that was replaced was under the Thruway, so the remaining century-old pipe — still underground on both sides of the thoroughfare — remains.
“I can’t imagine how much longer that will last,” Ruso said, adding it would take another $500,000 or so to replace the rest of the 100-year-old pipe.
The infrastructure problems plaguing New Baltimore and communities like it include paying for repairing or replacing old or damaged systems, as well as the expertise to resolve the issues.
“We need funding and we need expertise,” Ruso said.
Athens Village Mayor Amy Serrago also addressed the legislative panel and detailed similar problems.
“The majority of our water and sewer mains date back to the 1930s and are in need of replacement,” Serrago said. “We still have lead pipes in our system and a few clay pipes. Most of our pipes are made of cast iron and they are decaying. In addition, because of years of build-up inside them, most 6-inch pipes now have a capacity of only 3 inches to carry water. We routinely face water main breaks, approximately six in the last year, and last night, after I sent in my testimony, I was informed that we are aware that we have a leak right now. We don’t know when, but it’s coming — it will bust through and we will patch it up like we always do, but we are on watch.”
Athens also has a unique problem — in some areas of the village, water and sewer pipes are “inches apart from one another,” Serrago said.
“Modern standards for separation of these conveyances is a minimum of 10 feet,” she told the panel, adding that the risk of contamination is high, but it costs roughly $250 a foot to replace water and sewer mains.
Hinchey said the testimony of officials like Ruso and Serrago will be used to draft a Senate report detailing the biggest issues, as well as potential solutions.
“Access to clean water is a fundamental right, but in communities across New York state, that access is under constant threat by aging and, in many cases, decaying 100-plus-year-old infrastructure due to decades of underinvestment,” Hinchey said. “The state of New York’s water infrastructure has led to severe illness, furthered the climate crisis, increased the cost of living, and hurled many local governments into debt.”
Clean water should be accessible to all New Yorkers, she said.
“Our communities cannot endure another decade of underinvestment in our water systems, and it’s incumbent upon us to deliver real, meaningful progress to address these detrimental and often avoidable problems,” the state senator said.
Environmental advocacy group Riverkeeper estimates that the 46th Senate District, which includes all of Greene County, would need nearly $80 million for water infrastructure repairs.