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Cortland/Ithaca

Aging water systems a growing problem

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CNY/NNY/S. Tier: Aging water systems a growing problem
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The past century brought countless changes to cities across the country. However, updates to water infrastructure might not be among them. A report from the American Water Works Association shows costs to maintain aging systems could top one trillion dollars during the next 25 years. Our Sarah Blazonis tells us what this means for Central New York.

ONONDAGA COUNTY, N.Y. -- Breaks like the one in Armory Square Tuesday and the one on Fayette Street last September gained a lot of attention. But Syracuse's Water Commissioner says they're pretty routine for crews.

"We do it on a daily basis. The guys are very, very good at it. They come, they tear the street up, they fix the break," said Syracuse Water Commissioner Deborah Somers.

OCWA's executive director says the county water system also sees daily breaks. But that's over its 2,000 miles of pipe compared to the city's 500 miles. Age is only one of the causes.

"There's places where a water main was installed and the soil is very acidic and the mains have been attacked from the outside. It also could be an installation issue," said OCWA Executive Director Michael Hooker.

Repair costs can range from a few thousand dollars to $150,000 in the case of Armory Square.

City officials say a 2009 report showed replacing the aged system would cost $2.6 billion and such a project would require financial help from the federal government.

"It's been talked about for a lot of years and Syracuse isn't the only city that has these problems along with the rest of the fiscal problems that we talk about here in the City of Syracuse, but $2.6 billion obviously isn't something that's doable by the City of Syracuse," said William Ryan, Syracuse Mayoral Chief of Staff.

OCWA began replacing about $2 million of piping a year 20 years ago. Because it's a standalone agency, funds came from its capital budget instead of county funds. But the American Water Works Association estimates infrastructure replacement costs could triple rates for customers in the most affected markets.

"There are places where it might be part of the city, it might be part of a county, so everybody's issue is going to be a little bit different."

And as long as communities continue to struggle with financial challenges, repairs in some areas are likely to occur one break at a time.

The water main break came during Downtown's Dining Week and forced some participating restaurants to close. All had reopened for business Wednesday.

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