I-Team 10 Investigation: Costly hydrant changes

Posted at: 12/03/2013 6:08 PM
Updated at: 12/03/2013 6:16 PM
By: Brett Davidsen

New federal regulations targeting brand new fire hydrants could end up costing taxpayers in Monroe County more than $200,000. The city of Rochester and the Monroe County Water Authority have large inventories of new fire hydrants, but those hydrants may now have to be tossed out because the EPA says they aren't lead safe.

Water department officials were caught off-guard by these new guidelines and are now trying to figure out how to salvage the brand new fire hydrants they have in inventory and spare taxpayers from eating the cost of replacing them.

Collectively, the city of Rochester and the Monroe County Water Authority have about 200 of the uninstalled, new hydrants. This all stems from "the reduction of lead in drinking water act” that was passed by Congress in 2011. It set up new requirements for lead pipes and fittings. But it wasn't until late October of this year that the Environmental Protection Agency put out a summary and stated that fire hydrants would not be excluded from the requirements. The rationale is that fire hydrants can be used in emergency situations to provide drinking water. Certainly, that is a rare occurrence.

This new regulation does not affect hydrants that are already in place along streets, but it means any newly installed fire hydrants and their fittings will have to be lead free. At a cost of about $1,200 a piece, that means they collectively have about $210,000 in hydrants they won't be able to use.

Senator Chuck Schumer has called on the EPA to grant a waiver for those hydrants. I-Team 10 spoke with Schumer by phone Tuesday afternoon.

Sen. Chuck Schumer said, "What we're saying is that both Rochester and Monroe County should be given enough time to use their already purchased equipment before they're forced to comply with the new interpretation and that's what we're asking EPA to do."

Interestingly, bath tub and shower parts are not required to comply. Schumer says Congress did not intend for hydrants to be included in the new standards when the law was written. Schumer will be in Rochester Wednesday with city and county water officials to discuss the issue further.

I-Team 10 did receive a statement from the EPA. It says the agency recently held a web seminar with interested stakeholders and will consider additional information and update them prior to the January deadline.