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Low water pressure in hydrants is latest problem for Falls Water Board

NIAGARA FALLS – Just days after the Niagara Falls Water Board was called out by the City Council to fund $1 million in repairs to the 72nd Street waterline, the group found itself contending with another problem Thursday: Low water pressure in a hydrant that caused delays in battling a fire in a vacant home.

Firefighters were called to the building on the 700 block of Pierce Avenue between Whirlpool and Eighth streets just before 7 a.m. There was a fire hydrant right outside the house, but due to low pressure on the street, firefighters had to stretch their hoses to a hydrant on Whirlpool Street to fight the fire.

Fire Chief Thomas Colangelo admitted it cost firemen precious minutes, but he said that because the house was vacant, he can’t say how long the fire may have been burning before firemen arrived.

He said that in some cases, firefighters are aware in advance that they will face low water pressure, but other times they can be caught off guard. Colangelo said the department is working with the Water Board, which regularly tests hydrants, to come up with a computerized mapping system that will guide firefighters to the best hydrants.

Paul Drof, executive director of the Water Board, told members of the board Thursday night that the city has more than 2,300 hydrants and they are being actively repaired and replaced.

“We have old infrastructure in the city. It was put in years and years ago,” said Drof after the meeting.

Norman Allen, director of infrastructure and operations, showed the Water Board a new geographic information system mapping, which shows maps and stores information on water pressure, repairs, frozen pipe reports and hydrant testing. The flow rates and their proximity to important structures also are also measured.

He said the board is sharing this information with the city Fire Department.

Water Board Chairman Gretchen Leffler said federal funds have to be made available in order to update aging infrastructure in a more aggressive way throughout the state.

The board also discussed a City Council resolution that calls on the board to use excess cash in the debt service fund, which the state Comptroller’s Office found in a recent audit, to reimburse the entire cost for repairs to the 72nd Street waterline. The area was plagued by frozen waterlines in 2014 and 2015.

Water Board member Gary Laible said he met with Council Chairman Andrew Touma. He said the board applied for $250,000 in state funds to help pay towards the repairs.

He said if the audit finds there are any additional funds, they would like to help the ratepayers first.

Drof said the board and Council agreed on the $250,000 figure when they signed a memorandum of understanding. He said in the contract the city agreed to pay for the project and hold the Water Board harmless from any and all claims.

The board also discussed making sure lines of communication are open between the Water Board, the City Council and other government officials.

Leffler said, “We are married to the city and we have to work together.”