The town of Glenville has experienced several water main breaks since Jan. 1 and has already run up a $35,000 repair bill.
While it’s well known that old water pipes tend to break in cold weather, Glenville Town Supervisor Chris Koetzle said such breaks are hard to predict or prepare for.
“It seems to get a little worse every year,” he said. “The pipes get older.”
The cost of responding to such unexpected incidents is a primary reason Koetzle supports a plan for the state to provide money directly to communities that need to replace and repair their aging water and sewer lines.
State Sen. James Tedisco, R-Glenville, and Assemblyman Philip Steck, D-Colonie, held a press conference Thursday with other legislators and local officials at the state Capitol to promote their proposed Safe Water Infrastructure Action Program legislation, which they’re calling “S.W.A.P.”
Tedisco noted some water pipes in the region are more than 100 years old, making them more likely to have age-related problems — and that funding has to be the answer.
“We can’t duct tape our way out of this crisis,” Tedisco said.
The proposed legislation would provide a consistent stream of state funding to communities for water and sewer infrastructure — a program Tedisco has compared to the state’s existing CHIPs program, which provides year-to-year funding to municipalities for road maintenance.
“Municipalities shouldn’t have to rely on grants for needed repairs and projects,” said Steck. “We need to ensure continued, consistent investment in our water and sewer systems, and this legislation does just that.”
Even a couple hundred thousand dollars a year, Koetzle said, would make an enormous difference to the town of Glenville over several years.
“It would be a huge help for us in addressing infrastructure,” he said.
Tedisco has long championed the idea but previously did so as a minority member of the state Assembly. He was elected to the Senate in the fall, making him a member of a majority and increasing the seriousness with which his idea is likely to be considered.
He also isn’t acting in a vacuum.
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo included $2 billion in water and sewer funding for communities as part of his 2017-18 proposed state budget, but details of how that money would be distributed were not provided, and the funding is subject to the state budget process. Cuomo’s proposal, in additional to dealing with aging infrastructure, would also target costs like filtering or replacing contaminated water systems and preserving open spaces that protect public watersheds.
State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli previously estimated that meeting the state’s infrastructure needs would cost $40 billion over the next 20 years.
U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko, D-Amsterdam, said Thursday he is introducing legislation that would steer federal money to aging water systems.
“Every life and every job depends on water,” Tonko said. “Yet for decades, our federal government has allowed funding for our water systems to drip away. Now, many of these aging systems have fallen into disrepair, and many are reaching their breaking point, costing local taxpayers significantly more to fix than the systems would be to maintain.”
Recent manifestations of the problem include a water main break a year ago in Troy that caused a water crisis in Waterford and Halfmoon, both of which buy water from Troy. And a sinkhole opened in an Albany street last August, caused by a water main break beneath the street.
The S.W.A.P. funding would also cover sewer infrastructure, and Amsterdam’s sewer system has been suffering from an ongoing series of leaks and breaks for months. A water contamination problem in Hoosick Falls has drawn national attention.
For now, the cost of replacing worn pipes is borne by local communities, though they can seek state and federal grant funding.
“Municipalities have been faced with the burden of replacing their many miles of antiquated infrastructure, and with such a massive undertaking, not much is getting replaced,” said Chris Satterlee, Gloversville’s water superintendent. “These projects have been underfunded for far too long.”
“The constant repair of aging infrastructure impedes our ability to plan for investment in equipment and community development projects,” said Clifton Park Highway Superintendent Dahn Bull. “Pipe breaks, failures and sinkholes put storm sewers and even homes in danger. Having a designated funding program would allow us the time to plan, coordinate and identify areas of need.”
Koetzle said the program could also be a way for communities to make repairs without raising taxes or breaking the state-set tax cap.
“Let’s start investing in infrastructure, because we can do it in a controlled manner instead of responding to water breaks at midnight and people maybe losing water service,” he said.