A Deeper Dive

Forum Offers Facts About Fredonia Water System

From left are Matthew Lanning and Courtney Wigdahl-Perry, from SUNY Fredonia, James Hurtgen who served as moderator, and Natalie Whiteman and Jessica Wuerstle from the county Health Department. Photo courtesy of Fredonia Public Access

Chautauqua County Health Department experts spoke about Fredonia water system concerns in a Wednesday night forum at the Fredonia Opera House.

The Health Department’s Jessica Wuerstle and Natalie Whiteman joined SUNY Fredonia professors Matthew Lanning and Courtney Wigdahl-Perry as presenters on stage, in a forum that ran more than two hours.

Wuerstle said the Health Department’s “mantra that we are living by these days is prevent, promote and protect. That’s our role in Chautauqua County. We are interested in preventing disease. We are interested in promoting the reliable infrastructure and community awareness of health issues, and in general, simply protecting public health.”

She went on to describe the history of Fredonia Reservoir, dating from 1884. She noted the reservoir size “increased dramatically ” when a dam and spillway were built in 1938. The reservoir gets 99% of its water from watershed runoff.

Reservoir capacity was 332 million gallons in 1938 and was increased to 352 million gallons in 1988. However, as Wuerstle noted, “the intakes from which Fredonia water treatment plant pulls water from the reservoir, are not sitting in the deepest part of the reservoir, so they’re not able to pull and access all of the capacity.”

Actual usable water was reported at 211 million gallons in 1990, 214 million gallons in 199 and 201 million gallons in 2011. “The question we have is we don’t know what the current usable volume is. It’s a question we need to answer,” Wuerstle said.

The reservoir faces problems from sedimentation, she went on. The watershed features plenty of fine, silty soils. The soils fall out of suspension when the water is in the reservoir and fill it up.

Emphasizing the importance of dredging, Wuerstle said a 2011 engineering report stated 43% of the reservoir’s original capacity was lost to sedimentation. She compared that to roughly 50,000 dump trucks worth of soil.

“Fredonia has been talking about dredging for a lot of years. There were plans to dredge in 1965, 1972, 1999 and 2001. There were plans, permits ready to go…none of it has ever happened,” Wuerstle said.

She mentioned 1991 and 1998-99 droughts where the village received emergency permits to pull water from Cassadaga Lake. She said the 1998-99 permit mandated the village to consider alternate water sources in case of drought.

Noting climate change, and the fact that there was little snowpack this year, “the concern for the future is making sure there is enough water in that reservoir,” she said.

She described the earthen dam at the reservoir and said it was deemed “unsafe/non-emergency” as early as 1980. The most recent state inspection called it “unsound/fair.” Lack of spillway capacity and inadequate structural stability were cited, though the dam is called adequate under normal load conditions. Only about 34% of reservoir water actually makes it to the treatment plant from the reservoir.

Whiteman described the water plant and the intake structure. She said the intake structure holds two 12 inch lines that feed water to the plant through gravity. At the plant, sludge and chemicals are filtered out. The plant does not have granular carbon activated filters — Whiteman saying they contain anthracite and sand, the equivalent of “taking a charcoal briquette (and) crushing it up.” A chemical has to be added to the water to guard against corrosion.

She said of three lines that feed that village, one was built in 1888 and another in 1933. The third is from the Webster Road tank but that is not gravity-fed like the reservoir, necessitating pumps.

Whiteman warned that in one spot, there is less than four feet of land between the treatment plant and a ravine. Handling of bentonite clay and chlorine is not safe for plant operators, she stated.

“The general condition of the water treatment plant is not good,” she said. There are cracked walls, unclear labeling and the plant is limited in expansion capability. Clarifiers “are too small and the water is flowing through them too fast…so you don’t get adequate solids removal going through your clarifiers.”

The plant literally can’t be shut off because it has only two clarifiers, which much run constantly to meet demand, Whiteman said. “Lack of redundancy, it’s crippling to your water operators. It’s also — my boss (Wuerstle) is going to throw me dirty looks here — it’s also why it costs you so much for water. Most water treatment plants your size run an eight hour day and that’s it. It’s automated for the evening hours, automated to come on as needed during the evening, or it doesn’t run at all other than eight hours a day. Those personnel costs are part of what’s killing you.”

Whiteman also noted that current connections with Dunkirk will not allow all of Fredonia to be supplied in an emergency. She then did a lengthy comparison of Dunkirk and Fredonia water systems.

Wuerstle, Whiteman and the SUNY professors answered written questions provided by the community after the Health Department duo’s presentations.

About 90 residents attended the presentation. The entire forum can be found on Fredonia Access’ YouTube page.


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