Main-line break at Sturgeon Point could affect 35K southtown customers

DERBY, N.Y. (WIVB) — Workers at the Sturgeon Point treatment plant on Sunday afternoon noticed water bubbling at the surface in the area of one of two massive lines that transport treated water from the plant to customers. It was the first sign that something below was very wrong.

The leak grew worse, and it was eventually determined the plant’s 42-inch line — buried 18 to 20 feet in the ground — had sprung a leak.
“Frankly, it’s got a hole in it, so we have to fix that line,” said Earl Jann, executive director of the Erie County Water Authority.
The line is one of two that transports tens of millions of treated water from the plant to tens of thousands of customers in the southtowns. The water authority believes more than 35,000 customers are affected. But because the plant was able to shift the flow to the larger 48-inch line, there was no disruption in service.
Still, the Water Authority is asking customers in the southtowns to conserve excessive water use, meaning no lawn watering or car washing until the problem is fixed.

“There’s no problem with the water the receiving, there is no boil water order in effect,” Jann said. “It’s strictly that we would like them to limit their use.”

Not only was there a leak, but once they started exploring, workers found another problem.
“There are high-voltage electrical conduits going across the area where the break is,” Jann said, adding it’s a major design flaw and a dangerous inconvenience to members of the crew who have to work in the area.
“We’re talking about a major construction problem,” Jann said.
As a result, Jann said the plant will switch to generator power to stop the flow of electricity through the conduit.
The cause of the break is still being determined, but unlike last summer’s break in Amherst, the pipe at Sturgeon Point is relatively new, and the additional electrical problem will need to be fixed.
“Our engineers are out there re-designing as we speak because one of the basic problems is that we had all these electrical conduit over this 42-inch main,” Jann said. “Now why that was ever put that way I have no idea, it was done sometime in the 1990s. And obviously it should never have been designed that way.”
Notifications went out to customers within hours, despite the fact services were not disrupted. Jann said implementing the notification system and communicating to customers are two key lessons the authority learned after the water main break last summer in Amherst, which affected more than 200,000 people.
“We put it out on social media, we put it out in the form of the text messages to our customers that have signed up,” Jann said. “We want to be proactive on this and not reactive. We think it’s important to let our customers know what’s going on and what we’re doing about it.”
To sign up for Water Authority alerts, customers can text the word “WATER” to 1-844-716-3292, or visit the Water Authority alerts page by clicking here. The Water Authority also has a Facebook page and a Twitter page.

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