Town forms task force to address brown water

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Saying that her office was flooded with calls from residents concerned about brown and discolored water, Town of Hempstead Supervisor Laura Gillen said she is forming a new community task force.

The task force will include 10 residents from the communities of Cedarhurst, Hewlett, Inwood, Lakeview/West Hempstead, Lawrence, Lynbrook, Malverne, Oceanside, Valley Stream and Woodmere, along with town and New York American Water officials. American Water is the company responsible for the distribution of water for a substantial portion of Nassau County. The community representatives are people who have been reporting that brown, discolored water is coming from their faucets.

Last June, residents in the Sea Cliff water district discovered low water pressure in their sinks and showerheads, and in some homes, discolored, sediment-ridden water flowed through the faucets. The cause of the low pressure was a pump failure at the well on Roslyn Drive in Glen Head, which pumps water to the tank on Dumond Place.

Agatha Nadel, an activist from Glen Head who has been fighting the company’s practices for the past two years, said Nassau ratepayers face “genuine, serious health issues” from brown water, and that the community’s issues with the utility goes “way past committees.” “This is just to get the activist groups to go away so they can continue to do their business,” she said. “Our elected officials have to step up to the plate.”

Town officials said the task force, whose formation was spawned from a letter Gillen wrote to American Water in May, is expected to meet monthly and is charged with identifying hot spots and patterns where water discoloration is occurring to help American Water respond to and repair the problem quicker. The first meeting is anticipated to take place before the end of this month, where the task force will create an agenda, establish guidelines and benchmarks and timelines to measure progress.

“I am glad that residents will have a direct pipeline to New York American Water officials to get the information they need and provide feedback on the problems they are facing,” Gillen said in a news release. “Many ratepayers have been disgusted by bathtubs filled with brown water and feeling that their concerns have been ignored. This will help customers hold New York American Water’s feet to the fire and lead to quicker and more sustainable solutions.”

Higher levels of iron resulting in brown, discolored water has been a recurring problem in several communities across the county because of aging water mains and corrosion in the pipes, according to American Water.

Lee Mueller, an American Water spokeswoman, said the company supports these type of community-oriented committees, and aims to ensure that the money is spent in the areas where discoloration is happening by working closely with the county’s Department of Health.

“We have conducted a corrosion control study and found that the iron was entering the water from the distribution system,” she said. “We invested millions in water treatment and we are treating the water and removing the iron at the filtration plants. There is zero iron as the water enters the system. As it is traveling it is pulling up iron through the pipes and we are working to change that with a corrosion coating on the inside to stop the flakes [of iron].”

Cedarhurst resident Tova Plaut said she has endured a two-decades long battle with brown water. She is one of the task force community representatives. Plaut said that she and her neighbors must buy “drinking water, postpone baths and showers, and endure additional maintenance and cleaning procedures for laundry and our homes.”

“I am cautiously optimistic that a task force will have a positive impact on the water quality in our community,” she said, adding that she appreciates Gillen’s efforts to give residents a voice and helping to hold New York American Water accountable for what Plaut called their “abysmal care and attention to water quality.”

State and local officials who represent New York American Water’s North Shore ratepayers are backing their constituents’ demands for public water.

In a statement, Town of Oyster Bay Supervisor Joseph Saladino said, “We are actively lobbying state representatives to consider a state takeover of American Water. This is the most feasible option as it allows districts such as Sea Cliff to merge with a local municipal water district. Safe, clean and affordable drinking water should not be a luxury.”

“Time and again New York American Water has proven to be a shameful corporate neighbor using deception and lies to take advantage of its customers,” said Sen. Jim Gaughran in a statement. “We must move forward with a public takeover . . . and I fully support Sea Cliff and the surrounding areas’ efforts to do so.”

Have an opinion about water issues? Send your letter to the editor to llane@liherald.com or aseidman@liherald.com.

Alyssa Seidman contributed to this story.