There’s a monster lurking in New York State’s aging water and sewer infrastructure that could wreak havoc on millions of people if it’s not stopped.
Last year, a century-old water main break caused a major disruption for Troy and a ripple-effect for several towns that purchase water from the Collar City who were forced to declare states of emergency to conserve water. Colonie, Cohoes, Schenectady and Rotterdam are just a few of the municipalities that have recently had disruptive water main breaks.
This past summer, a sinkhole swallowed a vehicle in Albany during a heavy rain storm. In Amsterdam, there’s been a constant flow of sewage into the Chuctanunda Creek which flows into the Mohawk River. Colonie draws its water directly from the Mohawk River. These are not isolated incidents but alarming symptoms of a larger looming crisis.
Many of our towns and cities all over the state in urban, suburban and rural communities have underground infrastructure that is over 100 years old with some even dating back as far as the Civil War. These trolls of the sublevel could collapse at any time putting the safety of our drinking water at risk and leaving overburdened local taxpayers on the hook for millions of dollars in costly repairs.
We can’t duct-tape our way out of this crisis with quick-fix repairs. We’ve got to make real investments now and get a process started to repair and replace our underground infrastructure for the future.
New York has a great CHIPS — Consolidated Local Street and Highway Improvement Program — that provides a formula-based annual funding source for all municipalities to maintain and repair local roads and bridges. However, we will only continue to put good money after bad if we keep filling potholes and repairing roads while the infrastructure underneath continues to deteriorate and collapse with the weight of newly minted roads and bridges.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo's budget proposes $2 billion in clean water infrastructure funding, some of which may be given out as “Hunger Games-style” competitive grants. We support some form of competitive grant funding. But all town, village and city governments should have the peace of mind that they will receive a formula-followed annual level of state funding to maintain and invest in the underground infrastructure that keeps the above-ground roads and bridges stable.
Small towns and villages simply don’t have the financial and human resources to constantly repair sewer systems and old pipes and then spend valuable time and energy applying for competitive grants to receive a glimmer of state support.
That’s why we have come together in a bipartisan and nonpartisan fashion to sponsor the Safe Water Infrastructure Action Program (SWAP) legislation to replicate the success of the CHIPS program. This new legislation seeks to replicate the success of the CHIPS program by allowing local governments to maintain the infrastructure for water, sewer, storm water and gas service — protecting the safety of our water supply and saving tax dollars by essentially swapping out old pipes for new ones to prevent future breaks in service.
Our bill (S.3292/A.3907) — conceived by Clifton Park Town Supervisor Phil Barrett and supported by a bipartisan who’s-who of local officials — has been designated as the top legislative priority for the Association of Towns for the State of New York.
We are strongly advocating to the governor and legislative leaders for passage of SWAP, either on its own or through funding in this year’s state budget. It’s time to get serious about creating a program for all municipalities in the state to begin to invest in fixing their underground infrastructure.
Just because you can’t cut a ribbon on a sewer line doesn’t make it any less critical to the health and safety of our communities. The longer we wait, the stronger that lurking monster will get and the more destruction it will cause when breaks occur.
Republican Sen. Jim Tedisco represents the 49th State Senate District which includes parts of Saratoga, Schenectady and Herkimer counties and all of Fulton and Hamilton counties.
Democratic Assemblyman Phil Steck represents the 110th Assembly District, which includes Colonie, Niskayuna and parts of Schenectady.