Aging water and sewage pipes an issue

WestchesterJointWaterWorks1By NINA RECIO CUDDY
“The pipes affect our lives in every way possible.”

With those words, Mamaroneck Town Supervisor Nancy Seligson commenced the Local Summit’s June 17 breakfast program, “Our Pipes: What Lurks Below,” an examination of the problems the Sound Shore communities face as they seek to maintain and repair their aging underground infrastructure. The consensus of all the speakers was the problems are significant and will be expensive to repair.

What pipes are below the surface?

The underground pipe system consists of three distinct lines: the gas supply, the water supply and sanitation and sewage. There is a separate system for storm water. The gas supply lines are operated and maintained by Con Ed. Westchester Joint Water Works operates the water supply system. The sanitation pipes are operated and maintained by the towns and villages. Arterial sewage mains and storm drains are the responsibility of the county. Financial support for the systems is provided through taxes, surcharges and user fees.

Mamaroneck Town Administrator Steve Altieri addressed his remarks to the water supply system, which, he said, requires as much care as the sewage and storm drain systems. According to Altieri, our system of pipes is delicate and much of it is very old, with some pipes dating back 100 years. Many parts are in need of repair or replacement, and that work is expensive. Lamenting public apathy over our aging infrastructure, Altieri warned that, in his view, this is the most significant issue the community faces.

But who pays for the repair and who is responsible for the system’s maintenance?

Altieri explained WJWW runs the water supply system, supplying the towns of Mamaroneck and Harrison and the villages of Larchmont and Mamaroneck. He warned we are facing a collapsing water structure. Maintenance is critical, but it is also costly.

Altieri told the audience that, years ago, the federal and state governments would fund 50 to 85 percent of the cost of replacing local municipal infrastructure. Today, local municipalities cannot count on receiving any help from the state or federal government, even though assistance is critical and, without help, the burden on rate and taxpayers could be extraordinary. Our local governments today are further encumbered by the restrictions of the state tax cap.

Village of Larchmont Mayor Anne McAndrews agreed the cost of maintaining the water supply system will be high. She explained Larchmont regularly conducts investigations into water leaks and the village is planning to install 1,800 new water meters in village homes. The new meters will permit water usage data to be transmitted in real time and thereby allow the quick discovery of leaks and excessive usage. Larchmont is also replacing and computerizing its water pump station and tanks on Byron Place, a project that will require millions of dollars.

McAndrews said the village will need to borrow money for the improvements and repairs, and advised we will see the cost of upgrades and repairs on future water bills. She characterized the Village of Larchmont as “a lovely, old house on the Sound that needs constant maintenance and, on occasion, a massive infusion of cash.”

Our sewer system is also aging.

The sewage system in the Sound Shore communities dates back nearly 100 years. The sewage system in the Village of Mamaroneck is 80 to 100 years old, and the first Mamaroneck Village sewage treatment plant was built in 1929. Since the 1990s, the Village of Mamaroneck has spent approximately $3 million in sewer system repairs and will spend an additional $1.75 million over the next several years, according to Village Manager Richard Slingerland. The scheduled repairs will only address approximately 15 percent of the village’s sewer lines. The repairs are necessary because of inflow and infiltration problems and the village is working with the EPA on a program to detect illegal discharges.

Singerland further explained pipe openings can be damaged or narrowed by the collection of sediment and rust. Also, in a coastal area such as ours, the salt eats away at the pipes.

Seligson agreed the best solution to these costly repairs is a partnership among the federal, state and local governments to share the burden of maintaining and improving the various infrastructures. Seligson said she has been advocating this for many years. She said the burden on local governments can be unbearable when the state or federal government issues mandates to local governments without providing financial assistance. This can lead to very large borrowing.

This breakfast forum was hosted by The Larchmont-Mamaroneck Local Summit, an informal community council that seeks to make life better for all in the tri-municipal area. Its monthly public meetings are usually held at the Nautilus Diner in Mamaroneck at 7:45 a.m. on the third Tuesday of the month. The next breakfast meeting will take place on Tuesday, Sept. 16.