Once again wiser heads prevailed at Monday night’s (Oct. 15) village board meeting, October 15. A series of impassioned speeches by citizens revealed that they were both concerned and confused about the proposal to add chemicals to Croton’s water. Unfortunately, instead of achieving clarity, the issues become more clouded with each successive meeting.
A principal concern of speakers was that the Village had not publicized the issue of chemical additives enough. For his part, the Mayor insisted that wide publicity had been given in the past to the issue. An examination of published materials shows this to be untrue. The 2006 Water Quality Report, for example, mentioned the Chazen Group, but said that it had completed “a report on the feasibility of a corrosion control system to help alleviate complaints about discolored water, to lower lead and copper levels, and to help prolong the life expectancy of the water mains and service lines throughout the Village.” Note that nothing is said about additives.
Crotonblog would point out that postponing a vote on the question of chemical additives to still another board meeting is simply not a satisfactory reaction. If the Village were as proactive as it claims to have been, it would have scheduled an information meeting long ago at some place like the high school auditorium at which residents could gather and thresh out their concerns.
Speaker after speaker also implored Village board members to find a solution to the Village’s water-main problems, one that did not involve adding substances that might have a potentially deleterious effect on the health of residents, especially their children.
The Village’s Double-barreled Quandary
At the meeting, it quickly became obvious that the Village is facing two problems:
Corrosion of the Village’s own water mains, largely made of cast iron and subject to rusting from standing water caused by stubs at the ends of dead end-streets; and
A separate problem caused by the use in older Village homes of lead and copper pipes with lead-bearing solder joints.
The first thing the Village should do to give residents a handle on the problem is to exhibit a map showing the dates when the various Village water mains were laid beneath Village streets. Before the Mayor again uses scare tactics and assures residents that a water main-replacement program is financially unfeasible, the Village should demonstrate that it is aware of the magnitude of the problem and estimate the future cost of replacing aged mains.
The Village’s water emerges from Croton’s wells carrying no lead or copper. Nor does it pick up either of these metals in its journey through Village water mains. It is only when the water leaves the Village’s distribution system and enters each home’s pipes that a potentially dangerous situation arises.
Whatever difficulty the Village is having in convincing residents to accept chemical additives is largely of the Village’s own making. Presented with the problem of selling Village residents on the idea of injection of chemical additives into the Village’s water system, the Village made a fatal mistake. It hinged its campaign on the narrow need to combat rusty water in the Village’s own pipes, a condition that affects only a small minority of residents. On the other hand, combating lead and copper adulteration of Village water—a primary concern of the Environmental Protection Administration (EPA)—was relegated to a secondary role in the Village’s sales pitch.
Politicians and bureaucrats famously lack imagination. This may explain why they gravitate to the ho-hum worlds of politics and bureaucracy. In typical politico-bureaucratic fashion, they botched the task of calling attention to a potentially serious health problem—namely, the very real possibility that lead and copper may exist in many a Croton household’s water.
Lead and copper adulteration of water after it reaches individual residences (and businesses) are (or should be) prime considerations—not how long the Village’s own pipes endure. As part of a campaign that would take an entirely different tack, a smart Madison Avenue advertising agency would have created a slogan something like “Your House May Be Killing You.” This would have been a great attention-getting device, and perhaps, in many cases, it would be true.
Loading the Dice, Marking the Cards
Another major problem with the Village’s campaign to sell the idea of additives is that it has not been honest with residents. The Village is required by law to test the water in selected location for adulteration by lead and copper. But does the Village take random samples from various parts of the Village? On Monday night, the Mayor admitted that the dice are loaded, the cards are marked, and the deck is stacked.
That’s right, instead of choosing houses at random throughout Croton, the Mayor confessed that houses in Harmon are specifically chosen for testing “because that’s where the older houses are located.” Harmon lots were first offered for sale in 1907, a hundred years ago. Advertisements proclaimed, “Sidewalks and water and sewage lines are already installed.”
If true, loading the dice by failing to randomly choose homes for water sampling has actually worked to Croton’s disadvantage. The levels of lead and copper in the homes selected by Croton for testing exclusively in the Harmon area are bound to show higher levels of these two metals. Random sampling would have made better sense, and probably would have resulted in lower levels. As a result of Croton’s manipulations, the Village is now skating close to the thin ice of EPA intervention—hardly something to be desired.
The Village’s position should be that contamination of water in homes by lead and copper is properly the homeowner’s problem, and can be solved with filters or by replacing metallic pipes with pipes of inert materials.
It is Crotonblog’s considered feeling that Croton should not be playing “Big Brother” and forcing residents to ingest unfamiliar materials under the guise of extending the life of the Village’s water distribution system, with control of levels of lead and copper as an added, but subsidiary, benefit. Correcting the levels of these two metals should have been the focus of the Village’s effort.
A Misguided Campaign
The end result of the Village’s present misguided campaign is that the Village is attempting to solve the problem of contamination of water in households by lead and copper that more properly should be handled by the individual homeowner. By leaving to each homeowner the task of solving the metal contamination problem, the Village would be demonstrating that it is not trying to play the role of “Big Brother.” And it could handle the less-serious problem of rusty water and deteriorating pipes without forcing residents to ingest undesirable substances.
For their part, residents would be required to take care of reducing the threat of lead and copper by taking matters into their own hands. This could include regular testing of water for elevated lead or copper levels, installation of simple filters at critical fixtures, and replacement of copper pipes and soldered joints within individual homes.
The tactic of postponing a vote on a touchy issue from meeting to meeting—with nothing taking place in between—is an old trick. Its purpose is to wear down opposition and to cause fewer and fewer concerned citizens to turn out at successive meetings. Unless concerned citizens are made aware of the choices facing them—and the Village—and take over the reins of government, the outcome will prove the wisdom of the adage that citizens eventually get the government they deserve.
What Croton’s Government Owes Its Citizens:
Educational and informational sessions for Croton citizens well in advance of proposed major changes to goods or services offered by Village government.
Immediate separation of the issues involved in the Chazen proposal. The “pipes” in the bodies of Croton’s residents and their health are more important than an extension of the life of Croton’s water mains, and should be the Village’s first concern.
A clear picture of the state of the health of Croton’s water mains—where and when replacements must be made—and some idea of the future costs of meeting those obligations. Let’s stop attacking problems piecemeal.
Encouragement of a testing program to measure lead and copper levels in most homes in the Village, perhaps with tax credits offered to homeowners who voluntarily have the water in their homes tested for these metals and furnish the results to the Village.
Exploration of the cost of installing water filters, again possibly with tax credits to those residents who add them at critical locations within homes. Thus, toilets, bathtubs, showers, washing machines, dishwashers and garden hoses do not need filtered water.
Above all, Croton owes its citizens what is owed to them in modern democracies: freedom of choice, an outcome devoutly to be desired in this situation.