Environment Column

$2 billion clean water proposal is simply not enough for New York state to replace pipelines

New York state Gov. Andrew Cuomo recently proposed the state invest $2 billion in clean water infrastructure and quality. But in order to keep people from comparing the state’s water crisis to that of Flint, Michigan, Cuomo has to face the fact that this investment just isn’t enough.

Although Cuomo’s office branded this proposal as “historic,” it’s just one step in the miles the state has to go to restore water quality. Syracuse officials estimate they’ll need $726 million to fix 550 miles of pipes alone, which accounts for more than 36 percent of the funding allotted for the entire plan’s budget, according to Syracuse.com. Considering the city only holds .7 percent of the population of New York, places fifth in city population and is the 23rd poorest city in the United States, it is unlikely Syracuse will receive even half of the money city officials have requested.

This is devastating to those living in and outside the city. Between 2009 and 2015, Syracuse’s children had the highest rate of lead poisoning in the country, according to The Journal of Pediatrics. There are about 15,000 lead pipes in the city — according to Syracuse.com — not including the suburbs. Exposure to lead can damage nearly any part of the body, including and especially developing fetuses, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

This is devastating to those living in and outside the city. Between 2009 and 2015, Syracuse’s children had the highest rate of lead poisoning in the country. There are about 15,000 lead pipes in the city, not including the suburbs. Exposure to lead can damage nearly any part of the body, including and especially developing fetuses.

“We are putting more chemicals in our water than ever before,” said Christa Kelleher, assistant professor of earth sciences and civil engineering at Syracuse University. “So trying to know what’s going to affect the human body in five, 10 and 20 years is something we’re still learning about.”

In late 2014, more than two years before Cuomo’s clean water proposal was made public, Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner requested state funding to provide aid to Syracuse’s declining water infrastructure, according to Syracuse.com. Cuomo addressed the request months later in an interview with Syracuse.com, when he said: “Show us how you become economically stronger and create jobs. Then you fix your own pipes.”

Infrastructure policy has been a subject among politicians at the national level as well. In early January, Senate Democrats released what some are calling a “Trump-size” infrastructure plan. This $1 trillion proposal will take place over the course of 10 years and update century-old pipes, roads, bridges, rail lines and other forms of infrastructure, according to The Washington Post.

Some Republicans seem to think this plan is a pipe dream when, in reality, even $1 trillion couldn’t dare to do the job. Updating water systems across the U.S. will cost more than $1 trillion in the next 25 years alone, according to the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania.  

While the Democrats’ deal includes all subfields of infrastructure, Cuomo’s plan specifically targets drinking water — and with good reason. In the past year, a series of alarming events have prompted New York officials to respond to the state’s clean water crisis.

Officials from the village of Hoosick Falls — which is located about three hours away from Syracuse — recently found dangerous levels of PFOA, a toxic chemical, in the town’s water supply, according to The Times Union. PFOA has been linked to kidney cancer, testicular cancer, thyroid disorders and other diseases, according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency.

Last year, two elementary schools in Ithaca detected lead in 30 distribution sites, forcing them to shut down. Binghamton City Schools followed suit and addressed their lead levels by shutting down seven drinking water sources, including water fountains and sinks, according to USA Today.

And, perhaps most alarmingly, a recent study found that three of the top four cities with the highest levels of lead ingestion are located in New York: Syracuse, Buffalo and Poughkeepsie.

The U.S. has a deteriorating infrastructure that exposes millions of citizens to toxins every day. And it’s clear that New York state has plenty of problems with pipeline infrastructure alone. While Cuomo’s proposal is a step in the right direction, clean water comes at a much higher cost than $2 billion.

Lydia Niles is a freshman public relations major with minors in environment and society and political science. Her column appears weekly. She can be reached at lnilesst@syr.edu and followed on Twitter @Lydia__Niles.

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