Cuomo: Criminal investigation could come in black water incident

In this July 29 photo provided by Rainbow Air Inc., black-colored wastewater treatment discharge is released into water below Niagara Falls.

The Niagara Falls Water Board faces "huge" challenges.

But improvements have been made over the past eight months.

That was the message delivered to Niagara Falls City Council members by Water Board Member Nick Forester Monday night.

Forester said the city's water infrastructure is crumbling.

"Sixty percent of the water we pump is being lost," he said.

Forester told the council that when he first joined the water board in February, he needed to use the flashlight app on his cell phone to take a tour of the wastewater treatment plant.

"A lot's been said about what's going on at the water board and a lot of it is true," he told the council.

He said he need to use his cell phone flashlight on the tour because "most of the lights (in the lower regions of the plant) were out."

And Forseter said, if power to the plant had gone out, there may have been even bigger problems. He said the generator designed to power the wastewater plant in an emergency, had been inspected in more than a year.

"That's because we only had one electrician for two (the water treatment and wastewater treatment) plants," Forester said,.

The water board has since hired a second electrician, but that's just the start of their manpower problems. Forester said water department workers are paid an average of just $11.49 per hour, with 20 percent of that gross compensation going to pay helath care costs.

"So they get trained here," Forester said, "and then go (work) somewhere else."

When he arrived at the board, Forester told the council he found boxes of unopened mail, some of it from state and federal regulatory agencies. Other mail contained union grievances and notices of charges from the state Public Employees Relations Board.

Forester charged the agency had no inventory controls and no knowledge of its inventory, including something as simple as how many trucks were in the water department fleet.

The price to fix all of this, Forester told the council, will not be cheap. Particularly when the water board's budget has been blown apart by costs associated with dealing with polluting overflows from the wastewater treatment plant.

"My personal apologies to the city and our tourists for the inky, black water," Forester said.

But he also warned that without major changes to the plant, "There will be more overflows."

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