City of Buffalo asked to restore water to those without it

Advocates call for increased communication to those without running water

Mike Baggerman
April 02, 2020 - 12:07 pm

WBEN Photo/Mike Baggerman

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WBEN) – After a stroke two years ago caused a Buffalo man named “Mike” be to laid off from his job, he said his water was turned off because he could no longer make payments and had to prioritize where whatever money he was making went, such as his mortgage and groceries.

“The water was off for about 16 months,” Mike said Thursday in a news conference held by Buffalo organizations including PUSH Buffalo, Partnership for the Public Good, Center for Elder Law and Justice, and more.“At that time I was only receiving about $260 a week. My roof leaks and I can’t afford to get it replaced, so I collected the rain water in buckets to flush the toilet. I would buy water to do dishes, showers, and for drinking. Before the water was turned back on, I could not find water.”

His water was turned back on by the City of Buffalo on March 20, where he can now enjoy things like taking a shower.

Buffalo Water has a moratorium on shutting off water for people, but now organizers are asking for city officials to better communicate how people can get water restored and to take proactive steps to restore water for those who lost it.

“In this emergency situation, we can’t afford any more delay,” Andrea O Suilleabhain, Executive Director of Partnership for the Public Good, said. “This group of partners came together and came up with a list of six very practical steps the city could take to show this time that restoring water to its residents is a top priority.”

Those steps include:

  • Sending letters to Buffalo Water customers shut off in the last year announcing that water can be turned on at no cost by calling 847-1065.
  • Run repeated public service announcements on radio and television
  • Update their websites to announce that water service can be restored at no cost
  • Create a database of all residents where the water is shut off
  • Call residents to initiate water restoration
  • Report the number of residents with water service restored since March 17

“These are real common-sense and not heavy-lift steps,” O’ Suilleabhain said. “For us, this would actually show the City of Buffalo is taking the lack of water seriously and show that they consider it a top priority.”

Mayor Byron Brown announced on March 16 that Buffalo Water will restore service during the pandemic to those who had it turned off for extended non-payment. They continue to ask for residents without running water to contact them at 847-1065 and are asking advocacy groups to also communicate with the city about residents in need of help.

Buffalo Water Chairman OJ McFoy told WBEN that they are running two crews each day from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. to restore water to those who need it during the pandemic. Multiple crews are on standby to help those needing water turned on.

"We have been proactive on our side," McFoy said. "We've been calling those who have been shut off at the nearest time to this pandemic. We've been calling them and working our way backwards."

McFoy said there have been approximately 100 people that have had water restored and that they want those advocacy groups to contact Buffalo Water and help those who may not have a phone or any way to communicate publicly.

Some of the challenges that Buffalo Water has when restoring water is ensuring that somebody is home at the time the water is turned back on. If nobody is home, there's the risk of a burst pipe that could cause flooding in a basement and impact the electrical system, possibly causing more problems than solutions.

Photo courtesy of City of Buffalo
Photo courtesy of City of Buffalo

The organizers of Thursday press conference said that past data showed that there were 17,000 instances of water being shut off from 2015 to 2019. Around this time in 2019, there were 250 to 300 homes per month that had their water shut off, with half of those homes being occupied at the time the water was shut off.

“We would expect that there would be hundreds of people in this situation when the coronavirus crisis started,” O’ Suilleabhain said.

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