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1,500 leaks in 2015 prompts change of attitude at water authority

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National Public Radio

After dealing with nearly 1,500 leaks in its system in 2015, the Erie County Water Authority decided to get serious. It has made progress, but much more needs to be done.

ECWA Executive Director Earl Jann said the peak - or the depth - was hit three years ago with those 1,499 leaks. Each of the two years since, that count has dropped by 200.

Of course, that included a massive leak last year at the water authority's primary production plant in Sturgeon Point when workers discovered a leak of 1 million gallons a day. With that leak finally repaired two weeks ago, the bill approaches $3 million.

"So, we still have a tremendous number of leaks and for a long time the authority took the position of 'well, put a Band-aid on it, just fix the leak and don't bother to replace the pipe,'" Jann said.

Jann said a major repair is coming in the Northtowns, replacing three-quarters of a mile of 36-inch pipe.

"That goes from the Ball Station to the Town of Amherst, where we had the break in 2016," Jann said. "That's a 36-inch pipe and we're replacing 3/4 of a mile of that pipe this year. We hope it have it all ready to do this year. It may run into next year."

Jann said problems range from pipe not properly plastic-wrapped, allowing acidic soil to eat into cast iron, to just plain-old pipe, to the use of acidic steel-making slag as a base for pipe, eating away at it.

"As long as it's put in properly, you use a plastic coating around it," Jann said. "It's like you're covering it with plastic sheeting, and sealing it from water that's in the ground. Like I say, in many of our areas, the ground itself, the soils, are acidic."

Jann said pipe is being laid deeper.

"Our standard used to be 42"-48". We're now going down 5' and so this addresses that kind of problem," he said.

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