A glass of tap water in Paul Luce’s Fredonia home can, at times, look like a snow globe…only the flecks floating in it are rust-colored.
Luce says it’s been this way for years.
“We still won’t drink it and we won’t cook with it… even after we filter it,” says Luce.
Yes, even after the water’s filtered there are visible particles in it. Luce brought us into the basement to show the system he had installed. The cylindrical filters themselves are bright white when new. Luce pulled the filter out after what he said was a little more than two-weeks of use.
It was almost pumpkin colored.
Luce says, “I change them probably every three weeks. But I could change them every week and it would already be orange.”
As a result, the household has changed the way it lives to adjust to the dirty water. The ice-makers in the refrigerator is not connected. There are regular runs to the store for bottled water which is used for drinking and food preparation. White clothes are a bad idea, because they come out of the wash tinted with the residue in the water.
Luce is a retired village cop. He suspects the water main running down his street, James Place, is the culprit.
“They gotta know that these lines are shot. I don’t know how they can’t know that," says Luce.
Water main breaks have been commonplace in Fredonia this year. A break and the subsequent leak in last September prompted a boil-water order that stood for days.
The discolored water and the main breaks are bi-products of an aging water delivery system. Approximately 75% of the mains delivering water to homes, businesses and the SUNY Fredonia campus are made of cast-iron. Much of it was installed in the 1940’s and 50’s. Some of it is old enough to be classified as antique.
“There’s water mains with in the village that are a 126 years old,” says Paul Snyder, an engineer with the Chautauqua County Health Department.
Snyder has recently re-inspected Fredonia water system. He will not discuss specifics until he’s completed his report and delivered it to Fredonia village officials.
He did, however, offer this: “The distribution system, I would say, would be the worst in the county."
The aged, iron water mains were one problem outlined in a 2015 report by the county health department. (You can read the entire report below.)
Other issues included the water storage tank for the village. It’s too small. There are questions whether the tank could provide adequate water flow to hydrants in case of fire.
One of the biggest problems deals with the village water source, the Fredonia Reservoir. There is an estimated five-feet of sediment on the bottom, the result of years of build-up. There were projects scheduled to dredge the reservoir in 1965, 1972, 1999 and 2001. The work was never done.
Because of what Snyder calls decades of neglect from the last 1960’s through the turn of the century, even recent good news gets overwhelmed.
Snyder points out, “Fredonia as just awarded over $900,000 in grant money for carrying out some of the much needed repairs. Unfortunately, $900,000 doesn’t even scratch the surface.”
A recent estimate from an engineering firm hired by the village puts the total repair cost to the Fredonia water system at $30,000,000.
That figure dwarfs the current cost of running village government for a year: $11,000,000.
What to do about water service in Fredonia now falls largely on Anathasia Landis. She gave up practicing medicine to raise her five children. Then, in 2015 she ran for mayor and won. This is the first elected office she’s held.
Did Mayor Landis know how bad the Fredonia water system was when she ran for office?
“No”, says Landis, who pauses and then adds, “I had some idea.”
“If it was up to me, I would start changing all the infrastructure or at least infrastructure that’s not performing well,” says Landis.
Preventing that is a familiar refrain among local governments, there’s not enough money. There are grants available through state government, but they are awarded on a competitive basis.
“I’m hoping that were gonna get some more money to start fixing these things. Obviously, my priority are the streets that have this really big problem with the colored water,” says Landis.
Meanwhile, Paul Luce with his orange-tinted water, says he’s stuck.
“I don’t know who would be foolish enough to buy a home with no drinking water. There’s no potable water. How can I sell my house?”