Time to Reexamine How We Deliver Water to Our Homes

By Michelle Schoeneman

10th District Candidate for the Erie County Legislature

The Erie County Water Authority has let the public down again.

In just one week’s time, a $1 million water main break and a refusal by the authority to explain last year’s $129,500 legal bill have left Erie County residents wondering where their money is going.

The crumbling infrastructure and lack of transparency are not new problems. For years, the Erie County Water Authority has expected residents to pay into a system that is not only outdated in physical design and methods for addressing problems, but is shrouded in secrecy and reeks of political favors.

Enough is enough. The ECWA’s $90 million budget is mostly publicly funded, and we—the residents who fund it—deserve some answers. Last week, I delivered a letter to the Erie County Legislature urging its members to bring the leadership of the ECWA to Old County Hall for a public hearing. It is not enough for the ECWA to answer questions posed by the legislators alone. The public must have an opportunity to be seen and heard.

I also filed a letter with the New York State Authorities Budget Office asking for a performance audit of the ECWA. Such an action would provide the public, as well as local officials, with the information needed to begin a conversation about ways to remedy the problems that exist.

It has been 67 years since the local community first decided that the ECWA was the best way to deliver water to its residents. That is a long time for one system to be in place without a serious reassessment. It is time to confront the issues with the ECWA head-on and decide if the current system in place is indeed the most effective. It may be time for public policy discussion about the utility of an authority at all.

It is incumbent upon our local leaders in both political parties, as well as the leadership of the ECWA, to admit their failures with the handling of the authority–both past and present– and come together with the public to solve this issue. Several options exist to transform the current water delivery system into a highly functional operation, but one thing is clear: the status quo is no longer acceptable.

The time for transparency, public input, and change is NOW.