Cities struggle to stay up to date with older water supply

This is the first of a five-part series taking a look at the facilities in the Capital Region. The series is a result of a job undertaken by The Saratogian, The Record and The Community News. A lot of officials spend their entire time in public office establishing their legacy. Patrick Madden s may have been figured out in less than 3 weeks.

When a 33-inch water transmission line ruptured on a Sunday morning in January in Lansingburgh, flooding nearby streets and basements and interrupting water service throughout Troy and 9 other towns it serves, consisting of some in southern Saratoga County, Madden had actually remained in office as the city s mayor just 17 days. He instantly became the focus of a statewide spotlight as the mayor of the city that dealt with every city s worst headache.

Facilities are essentially the foundation of any neighborhood: its water and drain lines, its roads and bridges, even its utility services, such as electricity and cable television and Internet. In many American cities, specifically in the Northeast, that infrastructure can date back as lots of as 150 years. Water and drain lines in those days were essentially hollowed-out trees, a far cry from the high-grade steel pipes that now carry water in more contemporary systems.

With the decline of the American city, however, has actually come a decrease in the condition of those older lines. Cities needing to squeeze more and more out of every penny typically might not manage to upgrade their systems, minimum of not without help from the state and federal governments.

However while such legislation as the federal Clean Water Act of the 1970s maximized a large amount of money both in Washington and Albany for areas to modernize their systems, that swimming pool of financing has grown relatively smaller sized as authorities at those levels have needed to face their own financial pressures.

As an outcome, cities like Troy are left with pipes more than a century old bring its drinking water and removing its sewage, hoping against hope they won t face a day like Troy did on Jan. 17.

In Saratoga Springs, 150 miles of water pipes underlie the city. Downtown, 20 miles of 100-year-old cast-iron pipes spread out below the roadways. It would cost $125 per foot of pipe to change them, so the city does that one job at a time.

It`s not just a metropolitan myth: Some of the pipes in the earliest part of the city are really wooden. They`ve been there since the early 1900s, being replaced area by section.

Designers are building in the suburban areas, however not in the core of the city, Saratoga Springs Public Works Commissioner Anthony Skip Scirocco said, so the earliest pipes stay undisturbed up until there`s a problem with them.


Madden quickly ended up being the public face of both Troy s crisis and the difficulty facing city governments throughout New York State. Still in his first month of public life after spending more than 30 years as executive director of the nonprofit Troy Rehabilitation and Improvement Program, Madden led press conference with state and federal legislators, consisting of U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko, D-Amsterdam, and testified twice before the state Legislature to advocate for Albany to purchase regional infrastructure.

It is very important to tension that Troy is not alone in facing issues of aging water infrastructure, Madden informed the Joint Legislative Budget Committee on Local Governments on Jan. 26, just nine days after the Lansingburgh break, in supporting Gov. Andrew Cuomo`s proposal to invest an extra $250 million in local infrastructure in his 2016-17 state budget. Cities throughout New York state are attending to the exact same concerns over the water lines that supply drinking water and drain services to their homeowners. This needs a comprehensive method from our regional towns and state leaders to take actions to ensure the future prosperity of small cities like Troy.

This problem will not abate on its own. Our upstate cities need this important investment in the undetectable network that exists below our feet.


Saratoga Springs water treatment plant at 57 Marion Ave. has some working parts from the 1800s and is continually undergoing progressive replacement.

The valves in the consumption structure building by Loughberry Lake turned off the huge water mains in the city, Scirocco said. These valves haven`t been updated since the 1920s. They have actually never ever been replaced.

When one of them rusted beyond repair, DPW worked with a diver to take it out.

The biggest problem with the older water pipes is likewise the tiniest: diameter. Although the American Water Works Association now requires such pipes to be at least 6 inches in diameter, some of the city`s are much smaller.

Saratoga Springs City Engineer Timothy Wales said if water is run steadily through these older, narrower pipes, they can last an excellent, very long time.

If they stay wet and competent, they remain sensible, he said.

Still, the Department of Public Works changes such aging pipes job by task, bringing a stronger water circulation to the city`s businesses and residents.

In 2013-14, the city had a water design developed by the Chazen Cos. This engineering study of the water distribution system assists the general Public Works Department plan its tasks.

It`s like a skeleton of the pipes of the city. We can recognize problem locations via the water model.

The department recently installed a 12-inch main on Beekman Street and one on Washington Street. On South Broadway, the DPW abandoned four different, 100-year-old, four-inch water mains and installed a single, more efficient, 12-inch main.

On South Street, the department recently changed a 1 1/2-inch water pipe, reduced to a 3/4-inch diameter, with an eight-inch pipe.

These are the kinds of things you find, Scirocco stated.

Wales said, these spaghetti utilities or spider web energies aren`t permitted any longer. The preparation board ensures you set up proper-sized utilities.


More than 275 miles of sewage system and water lines run under the city of Troy, according to Christopher Wheland, commissioner of the city`s Department of Public Utilities. While some of those lines date to the 1880s, he stated the system as a whole is not in bad shape. In truth, he and other city authorities mentioned that while the Lansingburgh break was devastating, the city has in fact had fewer breaks than it would experience in a typical winter.

Wheland stated, but I can say it is dependable. Old it might be, it`s reliable.

Contrary to what some have stated after the Lansingburgh break and in subsequent discussions of the basic condition of infrastructure throughout the state, Wheland said age is a reasonably insignificant consider figuring out whether a pipe is at greater risk of breaking. Wheland pointed out that a few of the city s oldest pipes, dating back to the 1880s, are 3 inches thick, more than thick adequate to hold up against the stresses that might cause a break.

The pipe remains in excellent shape, he observed. The old stuff is thick, while the new things are paper-thin. We can`t just state It`s old, it`s going to break.

If it`s an older line and you sanctuary it had problems with it, you`re most likely not going to have problems with it. It`s settled in the area it`s in, and as long as the material [surrounding the pipe] stays solid, you`re OK.

The history of breaks within the city`s water system likewise refutes any substantial relationship between age and dependability, Wheland said. Citing information on past breaks consisted of in an electronic mapping system installed about 5 years ago to monitor the system, he said their random nature would suggest no continuing problems with particular lines.

Fortunately, or unfortunately, when you look at a map of the city and where the main breaks are, they`re spread, he observed, so it`s not like we have all our dots on one line or in one section of the city. The breaks are all over the city, so I can`t state this pipe is bad. There`s no rhyme or reason why they`re scattered.

Where the city ran into problems with the Lansingburgh break was in fixing a 2- to 3-foot rip in the riveted steel pipe, a main transmission line taking water from the 60-inch pipe that brings it from the treatment plant and carrying it south into the city while likewise feeding a line that brings water throughout the Hudson River to Waterford and Halfmoon, two of 9 towns that agreement with the city for water service. Where patching a more-modern line would include little bit more than cutting out the bad piece and changing it with a brand-new one, Wheland said the older pipe required a complex spot that needed to be specifically produced by Troy Boiler Works, at a cost of $31,000.


Wheland said he was uncertain of when the city last did a thorough evaluation of the water supply, though he surmised it might have been in the 1960s, when the current treatment plant was constructed. He stated that at that time, all pipes more than 16 inches in diameter were cleaned up and relined with concrete for support.

Exactly what he wishes to do is establish exactly what he called an asset management plan, where the system`s requirements could be recognized and focused on. A similar strategy is already in location for the city`s drain system, he stated.

Topping Wheland`s list at the minute is replacing the entire 33-inch line, a job for which the city is anticipated to get a $2.7 million financing package through the state Environmental Facilities Corp. By changing the whole 3,700-foot line, which ranges from Northern Drive to 121st Street, he stated the city would not just be improving among its main transmission lines, but likewise enhancing the quantity and circulation of water into the system.

In some cases, the capacity of older pipes with larger diameters shrinks because of mineral buildup. Wales revealed an area of a 4-inch, cast-iron pipe from Beekman Street so occluded by iron that barely any water might flow through.

We wish to do away with all the four-inch mains and change them with 12-inch ones, Scirocco said. New infrastructure gives a better volume of water. This makes for much better water quality and for better fire flow from our hydrants.


Fire hydrants in Saratoga Springs are painted to be color-coded for the pipes to which they are attached. This lets emergency responders see right away what diameter and pressure they need to work with.

Hydrant pressure proved to be a real problem when a fire broke out in July 2013 on Woodlawn Avenue. There wasn`t sufficient water pressure fire circulation to efficiently battle the blaze. This is why replacing the narrow-diameter pipes is so essential.

The city`s semiannual flushing program, where hydrants are opened and water allowed out, keeps the water streaming easily through the pipes, Wales stated. Keeping water moving is essential to preserving the pipes and high water quality.

Some sections of pipe in the city have dead-ends, Scirocco said. Fixing these is crucial to the flushing program, which clears out buildup and gets our treatment chemicals streaming effectively throughout the system.

Dead-end pipes at Stafford Bridge Road and Route 29, for example, will be tied into Meadowlark Drive.

Getting water out features own set of concerns.

Getting water into individual’shomes and businesses is challenging enough for upstate communities that face troubles in maintaining aging pipes and systems.

Similarly challenging is getting water, particularly what`s flushed down the toilet or down sink drains, from the system. Leaks and bad drainage can also develop flooding problems in communities.

In Saratoga Springs, the Department of Public Works have seen those problems at Wright, Jackson, Steele and Crescent streets, The DPW has just recently seen to those, putting in storm sewers and resurfacing the roadways.

Overall, there are 120 miles of sewer lines in Saratoga Springs. The city maintains 26 stations that pump out to the county facilities. The Geyser Road forced-main hygienic sewer has actually been repaired six or 7 times, Public Works Commissioner Anthony Skip Scirocco said.

Concerns with Troy`s sewer system is one shared by municipalities on both sides of the Hudson River.

Christopher Wheland, commissioner of the city s Department of Public Utilities, said prior to a part of Campbell Avenue collapsed Feb. 20 that Troy`s pipes, which feed into a bigger line operated by the Rensselaer County Sewer District that carries both raw sewage and stormwater to the district`s treatment plant, are in good condition. He and his counterparts in 5 other riverfront municipalities are working together to reduce the quantity of raw sewage released into the river when their systems are overwhelmed by stormwater.

Instead of every community aiming to tackle small portions here and there, the river hits all of our coastlines, so we joined together with the cities of Rensselaer, Albany, Cohoes [and] Watervliet, [and the town of Green Island, trying to come up with an option for our portion of the river, how we`re going to tidy up our part of the overflows into the river, Wheland discussed. Ideally, the water quality that comes into the Capital District is the very same quality that leaves the Capital District.

He said the neighborhoods have undertaken researches to determine where the worst overflows take place and how to address them. Officials are looking at two ways to deal with the problem, he explained: jobs that would lower the amount of stormwater that makes it into the drain system and others that would separate the systems that carry raw sewage and stormwater.

The system would be less susceptible to massive hurries of water throughout heavy storms that exceed its capacity and require the overflow through more than 40 outlets into the river in Troy alone. The city is likewise dealing with the sewer district, Wheland stated, to discover ways to enhance the flow into its transmission line to even more lower the need to flush the system into the river.

We`ve got a lot of coast on the river, and [the outflow] all goes to the river, Wheland discussed.

In Saratoga Springs, the East Side stormwater task will continue soon, with National Grid working in coordination to resurface the affected roads.

You can lose a great deal of water through broken facilities, Scirocco stated, so we aim to repair leakages and set up conservation-friendly fixtures. We plan our tasks about 20 years out.

Saratoga Springs City Engineer Timothy Wales said, we take a look at our leading 8 jobs that have top priority. We plan to do two or 3 a year.

Cities grapple with expenses of keeping pipes undamaged.

What seems to be a continuous job of keeping aging water and sewage system systems operating is also a task that presents difficulties determined in dollars and cents.

We have no debt service in the sanitary budget plan, said Saratoga Springs Public Works Commissioner Anthony Skip Scirocco, pointing out one of the key challenges in keeping the city`s infrastructure: the high cost. How do we spend for all this?

It`s a concern lots of officials likely ask on a daily basis. Problems should be fixed, however numerous community budget plans are tight as it is, leaving little room for a complete overhaul of water and sewage system systems.

In the past, metered sales spent for water service in Saratoga Springs, sales that would be raised and raised. Now there`s a stable charge. Rates consist of upkeep, debt service, a capital enhancement fee and a sewer fee.

We plan effectively and structure the rates to be affordable, Saratoga Springs City Engineer Timothy Wales said.

The state also supplies funds for some tasks. The revolving fund is point-based, he said, with the highest severity of issues getting the most points. The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority offer funds for green facilities.

Scirocco manages expenses by using his own department staff to do maintenance work whenever possible. Under 1,000 feet of pipe, his workers can do the task, saving the cost, time and headache involved with working with specialists.

When Troy handled a significant water pipe break in January, it not just influenced the Collar City, however other communities served by the city`s water.

Troy Mayor Patrick Madden discovered a strong supporter in U.S. Rep Paul Tonko, D-Amsterdam, an expert engineer who discussed the city s plight in testament Feb. 3 prior to the House Budget Committee in support of reauthorizing the federal Drinking Water State Revolving Fund, the primary source of federal money to support drinking water infrastructure, and increasing its financing.

Tonko cited estimates by the federal Environmental Protection Agency that there are 240,000 water pipe breaks every year and that leaking pipes lose an approximated 7 billion gallons of clean drinking water every day.

It is very challenging for financially distressed cities, let alone small and rural neighborhoods, to discover the funds to repair and upgrade their water supply, he affirmed. Some older cities have actually been burrowed, and their undependable, century-old water systems make it almost impossible to attract new businesses and investments. New building and redesigns around the city frequently save water and money, Wales said. Water-save faucets and toilets are now set up, so we are using less water, he said.

The state is also wanting to invest more in upstate water and sewage system systems. In his State of the State and spending plan address in January, Gov. Andrew Cuomo proposed $250 million in spending for such systems as part of his Built to Lead program. And state and local officials are also calling on the guv to develop a dedicated fund for water and drain repair works, a program similar to the state s Consolidated Local Street and Highway Improvement Program, which offers financing yearly for counties, towns, villages and cities to use for roadway repairs.