In upstate New York’s cities, the handwriting has been on the sewer walls for decades, as pipes that weren’t built to last forever have been rupturing and causing costly headaches. Now the suburbs, built during the mid-1900s, are getting in on the act. Still, it’s not the kind of issue public officials call attention to often, except in the throes of disaster, so we’ll give state Environmental Conservation Commissioner Joe Martens credit for doing so in a speech before the Business Council last Friday. Unfortunately, talk alone is not going to solve this problem; a ton of money is going to be needed — money that almost no municipality has.
Martens told the group that aging sewer systems around the state are going to need nearly $37 billion worth of upgrades over the next 20 years. And while just last week, the state was awarded $157 million in federal funds to provide low-interest loans for remediation, that’s obviously nowhere near the amount of money needed.
Considering the growing demands amid limited resources, the state needs to do triage: helping those communities with the greatest needs first. Obviously, the more recent suburban systems will have to wait — not only because they are newer and presumably in better shape, but because their communities, having lured away many of the city’s people, are, in part, responsible for the deterioration of the city’s tax bases.
The state should also be trying to discourage unnecessary new construction, such as the wastewater treatment facility the town of Glenville and village of Scotia are again considering. Better for those municipalities to continue partnering with the city of Schenectady and its plant, than to spend money they don’t have while leaving the city to upgrade its facility on its own.