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Essek Discusses Problems, Solutions For Water

Boiling Point

Fredonia Mayor Doug Essek addresses the press and gathered residents outside of Village Hall Monday about the boil water mandate. Photo by Jo Ward

Record temperatures and a large algae bloom are to blame for the boil water advisory still plaguing the village of Fredonia after two weeks.

At a press conference held Monday at Fredonia Village Hall, Mayor Doug Essek was joined by Paul Snyder, engineer for the Chautauqua County Health Department and Chris Surma, chief water plant operator to discuss this ongoing crisis.

Essek likened the situation to a fire, stating that the first order of business is to get everyone out of the building, putting the fire out and then investigating the cause.

“I have fought a lot of fires in my history as a fireman and have been incident commander in everything from train wrecks to service calls,” Essek said. “During a crisis the focus has to be on that crisis. That’s what we have done, getting the problem solved meanwhile keeping residents safe and providing safe water to them. We have one interconnect with the city of Dunkirk that’s used on an emergency basis. What I’d like to propose is a second one to assist in the volume of water that can be transferred back and forth. We’re also looking at connecting to two smaller interconnects with the North County Water District on our Route 20 line.

“So we would have four points of interconnect to supply back and forth in an emergency situation. There’s also a storage proposal of an additional water storage tank down from the treatment plant that would provide additional storage in case of these types of emergencies to keep the system going.”

Surma shared that higher water demand during July and August may have attributed as well. As flows go up and sometimes bring in algae and plankton with them.

“What that did was overload our filters and our reactors and the piping through the plant and we kept up with it basically all through July and through the middle of August,” Surma said. “We do tests throughout the day and one test that we did came out above the 1.0 limit through the facility so I called the health department and let the mayor know we quite possibly are going to get into a boil water order. That’s where we are now.”

Snyder, who has been with the department for 17 years and has been overseeing Fredonia’s water system since at least 2004, added that he has “not seen the village do the amount of work that they’ve done over the last three years ever.”

According to Snyder, the village has been diligent in making necessary upgrades at the water plant and around their distribution system.

“The current problems at the water plant that primarily exist started with an increase in turbidity that was primarily due to a very, very quick and large algae bloom,” he said. “There was another factor that went into play — the increased temperature, lack of rain allowed the algae bloom to occur so quickly that it overwhelmed the water plant, and no matter what was done through jar testing within the water plant, the numbers still went up by the time the end of August came around the turbidity got to where we had to issue the boil water advisory. We have been working around the clock to make improvements at the plant, which included replacing filter media.

“As of today, the turbidity out of all four filters is beneath 0.3, which is the level it needs to be in state compliance. However, the composite turbidity out of the clear well is still above 0.3. In consultation with engineers in Albany, today it was advised that we still remain on the boil water order until we can consistently stay beneath 0.3.”

The village recommends that people continue to conserve water, because the less being used the quicker the samples will clear and the order can be lifted. The village also wants to ensure that residents understand that the algae bloom wasn’t a toxic blue-green algae bloom and that the village is closely watching the turbidity levels. They’re also looking at changing the sample point for the machine that actually reads the turbidity to a location that might be less affected by turbidity in the clear well.

When asked about joining up with the city of Dunkirk, Snyder said he’s “been involved with the North County Water District since 2007 and one thing that’s always been in the back of my mind is a major interconnection between the city and the village. Back in 2014, we came up with a conceptual plan for this interconnection we had a preliminary design drawn up, and if that interconnection was in place prior to this emergency, the village would not be on a boil water order for two weeks.”

Snyder also shared that the interconnection would have been a very intricate design so that it could provide all of the water demands for the village from the city of Dunkirk on an emergency basis.

“If that was in place before this emergency took place, the water plant could have been isolated and shut down,” Snyder added. “In my professional opinion, this interconnection is a crucial part of infrastructure that is needed.”

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