I-Team 10 Follow Up: Costly hydrant changes

Posted at: 12/04/2013 5:30 PM
Updated at: 12/04/2013 6:13 PM
By: Brett Davidsen

I-Team 10 is learning more about the potential cost to taxpayers once new federal rules go into effect impacting fire hydrants. The city and county have hundreds of brand new hydrants that may have to be tossed out next month because they aren't lead-safe.

This all stems from efforts to make drinking water safer. But why do fire hydrants have to comply with new EPA rules when it is rare that anyone would drink water from a hydrant?

Senator Chuck Schumer came to Rochester to apply more pressure on federal regulators to get them to reverse course.

Sen. Chuck Schumer, (D), New York, said, "These fire hydrants, which the city of Rochester and Monroe County paid hundreds of thousands of dollars for, will not be allowed to be used and will go wasted if a really absurd EPA regulation goes into effect."

Combined, the Rochester City Water Department and the Monroe County Water Authority have about 200 brand new hydrants in their inventories that would not meet the new standards. To replace the hydrants and spare parts would cost rate payers in excess of $400,000 dollars.

It's really the guts of the hydrant, the brass fittings, which contain the lead. The Safe Water Drinking Act was passed by Congress in 2011. It set up new requirements for lead pipes and fittings. But it wasn't until late October 2013 that the EPA said that hydrants would not be exempt from the new lower lead standards, which go into effect January 4.

The rationale is that fire hydrants can be used in emergency situations to provide drinking water.

On top of the potential cost to taxpayers, city officials say there is a safety issue here. The city could end up with situations where broken fire hydrants remain out of service because there are no acceptable replacements in stock.

Chief Sal Mitrano, Rochester Fire Department, said, "You take a hydrant out of service it means the trucks are all geared up for hydrants at a certain spacing. If you take one out and especially if we're unaware of one being out, it creates a problem. And I talk about it all the time; time is of the essence."

Schumer says the EPA could simply waive the provision that includes hydrants. If not, it could be changed by legislation.

Already this week, the House passed an amendment unanimously by a vote of 384 to 0 to exempt fire hydrants from the new lead standards. The Senate would also need to vote for a change.