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BUFFALO HASN'T JOINED COUNTY AUTHORITY AS PART OF THE EPA'S SAFE-WATER EFFORT

The Erie County Water Authority has joined a voluntary federal effort to ensure safe drinking water.

But the Buffalo Water Division -- subject of a two-week water alert imposed by the Erie County Health Department last fall -- is not yet taking part in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency effort.

The EPA announced Wednesday that 284 water utilities have joined the program, but Sam Campagna, treatment supervisor at the Buffalo water-treatment plant, said he had never heard of it.

"We'd be quite willing to take part in anything that's aimed at making sure that the water is high quality," Campagna said.

Last December, Buffalo Mayor Masiello said long-delayed improvements would be made at the plant this year in the wake of last fall's water scare.

High turbidity levels in the drinking water prompted the city to issue the water alert, telling people with high risk of infection that they should boil water before drinking it.

Cynthia Dougherty, director of the EPA's Office of Ground Water and Drinking Water, offered no explanation as to why Buffalo had not heard about the agency's new program. She said all municipalities with water-filtration systems were invited to participate.

Under the EPA's "Partnership for Safe Water" program, water authorities will review their operations and prepare reports on them.

Those reports will be reviewed by independent third parties to determine how well the agencies are guarding against cryptosporidium -- a bacterium that caused massive nausea when it invaded the Milwaukee water supply in 1993 -- and other waterborne contaminants.

After those reviews, water authorities will make any improvements that might be necessary to make sure their water systems comply with federal standards.

EPA Administrator Carol M. Browner called the partnership a common-sense approach to guarding the nation's water supply at a time when additional regulation faces political difficulties.

"All of us recognize that we need more scientific and technological research to fully understand cryptosporidium and other microbial threats to our health," she said. "But we do know there are steps we can take today to respond to the immediate need to protect against microbial contamination."

Philip J. Cook, administrative director of the Erie County Water Authority, said his agency decided to take part in the program because it's an easy way to make sure that it is providing high-quality water to its 550,000 customers.

The agency serves most of suburban Buffalo outside the Tonawandas and Grand Island.

After the review, "We will make whatever improvements we can that don't involve large capital expenditures," Cook said.

He said the EPA had hoped to issue new regulations on cryptosporidium, "but it takes two years to put out a rule, so they're looking to making some voluntary measures instead." Ms. Dougherty said the voluntary program was by no means a substitute for a tougher federal Drinking Water Act, which the EPA hopes to push through Congress this year.

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