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Southtowns water advisory continues at least another week

Eileen Buckley

The Erie County Water Authority is extending the temporary water restrictions in the Southtowns until at least Aug. 17, due to "unforeseen complications" while repairing the water main break at its Sturgeon Point Treatment Plant.

The ECWA said repairing a 42-inch waterline at its Sturgeon Point facility has become more complicated than expected: the leaking line is 25' down, there was a massive block of reinforced concrete housing high-voltage electric lines above it, there is a 48" high-pressure waterline sitting above the leaking line.

Executive Director Earl Jann said it has been a project, with removal of that concrete and wiring just the first stage.

"We're down now probably about 10' and we need to go down 25' total - and, in order to do that, you've got to put in an awful lot of shoring and everything to make it safe for the workers," Jann said. "Well, the problem is reinforcing the 48" pipe that crosses over the broken 42" main."

Jann said crews also have to make their way through shale.

"The shale has a tendency to slide in and fill the hole as you're digging," he said. "Therefore, we have to shore it up. The other thing is that this leak is only about 15 feet away from a building, so it confines our area to dig."

Meanwhile, the authority is pushing as much water as it can from a treatment plant in the Town of Tonawanda into the Southtowns, buying 3 million gallons of water a day from Buffalo, using the leaking line at night to pump up storage tanks - thereby putting more water into the pit - and asking citizens to use less water.

"What we're doing to try to keep everybody in water is we turn on that leaking line for a period of time, especially at night, when we can recharge our tanks and our lines and then we shut it off so that we can work on it during the day," Jann said. "Now the problem is that when we shut it off, the water that's leaking is filling up the hole."

"Our first priority is always to ensure a stable source of drinking water for the public," Chairman Robert Anderson said in a statement. "During this repair, we continue to maintain normal water pressure and our customers have yet to report any interruptions to their service."

The Authority said the deep excavation required for this type of water break has created the unique challenges for ECWA crews. It said the break was" not the result of old infrastructure, as the pipe itself is only 20-25 years old." It said "the failure of the pipe was unexpected and the cause of the break is still being determined."

After things are back to normal, Jann said experts will try to figure out why the line leaked. Until this repair is complete, the ECWA continues to ask customers in Angola, Aurora, Boston, Brant, Colden, East Aurora, Eden, Evans, Farnham, Hamburg, Hanover, Orchard Park, the Seneca Indian Reservation and Silver Creek to restrict water use to only what is necessary: no lawn watering, car washing and other non-essential activities.

Further updates can be found at www.ecwa.org or by calling ECWA Customer Service at 849-8444.

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.