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AUGUST 3, 2016

Legislators, I am here today to discuss the increasing number of

Erie County Water Authority distribution system breaks we are
experiencing this year. I want to specifically address a major leak
in Amherst on the evening of Wednesday, July 20th.
Our number of leaks per year has increased from about 600 in
2006 to 1,399 last year. Keeping our aging system repaired is a
big job that never stops, so our engineers, scientists, water quality
experts, and line maintenance workers are very experienced in
dealing with water line breaks. Currently, we have 529 miles of old
cast iron pipe that accounts for 80 percent of our leaks that will
require an estimated $1 billion to replace. In addition, we have 22
miles of concrete pipe that should be replaced at an estimated
cost of $44 million. This is the type of pipe that broke on July 20th.
Were a New York State local authority, not a department of Erie
County government. The state mandates that we work closely
with the Erie County Health Department to assure high water
quality. Because we experience so many leaks, our engineers and
scientists have a good working relationship with the Health
Department. Theyre our partners when lines break. They know

that we follow proper procedures by disinfecting our pipes after

Boil Water Orders are extremely rare; the last one issued on the
ECWA system was 10 years ago. On average, our distribution
system experiences 1,100 line breaks per year. Water distribution
systems experience increased line breaks in very cold, very hot,
or very busy periods. This summer, in addition to high
temperatures, there is a high demand for water due to ongoing
drought conditions. We normally pump 68 million gallons per day
to our customers. Today, we are averaging around 100 million
gallons daily.
Some of the spikes in the line break rate come from the Authority
growing larger as we take over some municipal water systems.
Currently, 33 percent of the breaks we encounter happen on
systems owned by municipalities that we lease-manage. Old
pipes cause the problem. The leaks have gotten worse because
for the 25 years before I joined the board, the philosophy at the
Authority was to spend our capital fund only to maintain the
plants, tanks and pump stations. As for water lines, we just
applied Band-Aids we patched leaks and replaced little. When a
former Executive Director told me of this philosophy, I warned him
that this would catch up with the Authority at some point. Thats
why, when I became chairman last April, I changed that attitude.

Today, our customers pay an infrastructure charge specifically to

fund ongoing replacement of our outdated distribution system and
plant upgrades. You see that kind of work already in progress on
Niagara Falls Boulevard and Walden Avenue brand new pipes,
built to last another century. Weve got a long way to go.
On Wednesday, July 20th, at 8:31PM, our people detected a leak
by noting that pressures were dropping rapidly from 101 to 58.5
pounds per square inch at our Ball Station tank. The Authoritys
Director of Operations was notified and we began to receive the
first reports of outages and low pressure. At 10:00 PM, Authority
officials were already live on television and our PR firm issued a
general press advisory at 10:05PM. By 10:06 PM, our crews had
arrived on scene and identified the leak site. Within 30 minutes,
the first of two valves were identified and we began a shutdown.
Following this, our water pressure immediately began returning to
normal. This was like every other leak, just larger. Our engineers
and water quality scientists saw no reason for additional action
and, at this point, the event should have been over. The Erie
County Executive disagreed. Due to his decision, the problems
just started for more than 250,000 of our customers families,
businesses, hospitals, and more. Here is the time line and proof
of that statement:

10:58PM: The Erie County Emergency Services department

held a conference call with personnel from Lancaster,
Amherst, Newstead, Cheektowaga, Depew, the ECHD and
the Erie County Executive. The County Executive told his
Health Department to make sure a Boil Water Order is put in
place. No ECWA scientists or engineers were notified of this
call, even though the Emergency Services Department
maintains our two of our experts email, home telephone
numbers and cellphone numbers for precisely this purpose.
11:05PM: While Emergency Services was having their
discussion without the Authority, our water pressure had
returned to 100 PSI quite normal. Due to this rapid
pressure recovery, our specialists engineers and water
quality experts did not recommend a Boil Water Order.
11:15PM: The County Executive informed WIVB Channel
Four via Twitter that a Boil Water Order was being discussed
by his team.
11:33PM Erie County Emergency Services retweeted the
recommendation of a Boil Water Order.
July 21st, 3:30AM: Four and a half hours after our system
had recovered, the Health Department professional working
with our team at the ECWA service center informed our

executive engineer that she was ordered by her superiors to

issue a Boil Water Order.
3:36AM: ECWA Commissioners were notified of the Boil
Water Order via e-mail.
4:10AM: The official Boil Water Notice was written by the
Health Department professional on site at the ECWA.
4:20AM: A copy of the notice was given to ECWA dispatch to
inform customers who called our phone lines that a boil
water notice was in effect.
5:15AM: The ECWA Deputy Executive Director completed
other documents required by regulatory authorities in order
to notify the public, scanned the documents and then
transmitted them to senior management, our PR firm and
other staff.
6:00AM: Our PR firm sent the notice out to the media and
posted on social media. This was completed in 45 minutes well within the one-hour window we require.
As required, ECWA personnel initiated test sampling at 21
locations. The Health Department did 11 tests of their own.
July22nd, 3:30PM: The first samples were shown to be
negative for any coliform growth. As required, a second set

of samples were taken and another 21 water tests were

July 23rd, 10:30AM: ECWA reported our second set of
samples were also shown to negative for coliform growth.
11:15: In a conference call with ECWA, the Erie County
Health Department lifted the Boil Water Order.

Here are the facts: Our professionals - experienced scientists and

engineers - knew that a Boil Water Order was not necessary due
to their experience maintaining water quality and dealing with
thousands of line leaks. Still, a Boil Water Order was mandated by
the County. Our experts were later proven correct by two sets of
testing results.
The Health Department says they relied upon tank pressure
readings in reaching this decision. If they had asked our experts,
we would have informed them that tank pressure readings are not
the industry standard measurement. We take tank pressure down
all the time; it has no affect on water quality. Instead, its line
pressure we watch to gauge water quality, and that measurement
is a function of time: four hours. When water pressure drops to
below 20 PSI across our system for four hours, the Water
Authority would issue a boil order.

Our system pressure never dropped to 20 PSI, and certainly

never for four hours. Within two and a half hours, our pressures
were recovering. By the time the County Executive told his staff to
issue a Boil Water Order, our system had already recovered to
normal levels 100 PSI and above.
In researching possible causes of the July 20th line break, we
discovered that National Grid had been digging in the area and
uncovered part of our pipe. We suspect their work may have
contributed to the break. We are continuing to investigate the
In summer 2015, the Authority opened a public bidding process to
select a new public relations firm. Among our concerns: For 63
years, the ECWA has relied solely on the news media to
communicate urgent information to our customers. And this had to
When I came on board the Water Authority, I discovered the
postal service was our primary avenue of communication with our
customers. While we have physical addresses for all our
customers, we had collected only 36 percent of their phone
numbers and just 36 percent of their emails. And we had never
pushed mass communication via either. In fact, customer emails
had never been used. Finally, we had no social media accounts.

We knew this had to change and we selected our new PR firm

based their recommendations for communicating via all available
channels: social media, email, telephone, cellphone text alerts and the US Mail. Within weeks, we sent our first email and we
continue to cull that list. We opened Facebook and Twitter
accounts and initiated public contact.
And we've already begun integrating these new channels:
Recently, we responded to area concerns about the Flint,
Michigan water crisis via social media, email and published an
opinion article in the Buffalo News to let customers know not to
worry, we provide some of the highest quality water in the world.
While we will always rely upon the media to alert our customers, it
is our plan to contact our customers by any means necessary. To
accomplish this, in September 2016 - with families back from
summer vacation and schools in session - we were set to initiate
marketing campaigns to collect far more email addresses,
telephone numbers and cellphone text information. We also
planned to grow our new social media accounts with advertising.
Then the community encountered the recent large scale Amherst
break and an unnecessary Boil Water Order. One last time, we

were forced to rely on local media. We followed protocol and

delivered the necessary information as usual.
Clearly, the former protocols are inadequate. To address the
situation we have kicked off our upgrade efforts planned for fall
and hired a local technology company to help. We have
confidence these new systems, when integrated, will reach far
more customers, faster.
In summary, Id like to make three final points:
1) The Authority has new leadership with a strong commitment to
replace distribution infrastructure;
2) Boil Water Orders are serious business with significant
ramifications. The Authority believes it is best to leave these
decisions ONLY to credentialed professionals: our professional
water quality scientists and licensed engineers in a good working
relationship with the Erie County Health Department.
3) Were also developing solutions to better communicate with our
customer base using all media sources in the future.