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Buffalo should move aggressively to restore water service where it was cut off

City of Buffalo officials should be commended for making the decision to restore water services to those cut off prior to the new coronavirus pandemic, but they need to be aggressive in identifying people who may not be able to report their dire circumstances.

Not everyone whose water was shut off has a communication device. But city officials say they must be contacted before turning water on, partly to be sure the home is still occupied, partly to ensure there are no leaks.

At the best of times, lack of clean water is a health hazard. Today, with the threat of Covid-19, the risk of contracting or spreading the dangerous virus is severe.

One 67-year-old Vietnam veteran in South Buffalo featured in a recent News story did not have running water in his home for more than a year. The Buffalo Water Authority shut it off because of nonpayment.

He collected rainwater that fell through the leaks in his roof and used it to flush his toilet. His health issues – a stroke about 2 1/2 years ago, diabetes, COPD and other problems – put him at particular risk for contracting the new coronavirus. Yet, he still had to go outside, travel to stores and purchase water to bathe and wash dishes.

Steven Halpern, an attorney with the Western New York Law Center, which represents the South Buffalo resident, points out that there could be hundreds of people, perhaps more, living without water and that some of them do not have televisions, or phones to call in.

The city says it has been working with good government and community groups for years to deal with water shutoffs. Perhaps this man fell through the cracks. If so, there surely could be others.

The Law Center, the Partnership for the Public Good and PUSH Buffalo are compiling a list for the city’s Water Board. That could allay concerns by city officials who note that someone must be home before water service can be restored. In addition to the risk of leaks, crews that are diminished in size shouldn’t waste manpower on vacant homes.

The number to Buffalo Water’s customer service line is 847-1065. Those customers without computers or phones should contact organizations such as PPG or PUSH Buffalo.

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