SENNETT — Water is relatively cheap in Cayuga County. But that could soon change, at least incrementally, as local municipalities look at how best to upgrade their aging infrastructure and hook up to second sources for emergencies.
The Cayuga County Water and Sewer Authority is taking the first step, working with engineering firm Barton & Loguidice to assess some rural communities' water and sewer systems. Engineer Gregory Mosure presented the latest information to municipal leaders Thursday at the Natural Resources Center on County House Road in Sennett.
The mapping project is paid for by a Local Government Efficiency grant with matching funds from Cayuga County. The authority is taking a close look at systems in Fair Haven, Cato, Meridian, Ira, Cayuga, Aurelius, Moravia, Aurora, Union Springs and Weedsport. The firm is also examining second sources of drinking water. More than half of Cayuga County gets its drinking water from Owasco Lake, and since 2016 when toxins from harmful algal blooms threatened that supply, local leaders have been considering what to do if they need a backup.
Barton & Loguidice said it considered different source developments including ground water, Lake Ontario, the Onondaga County Water Authority, Cayuga Lake and an extension from the Bolton Point Water System in Ithaca. Groundwater is a tough option, Mosure said, because there aren't many places conducive to wells. Cayuga Lake would be a reliable source but it, too, has had harmful algal blooms.
Lake Ontario appeared to be a good option as it's plentiful and sustainable, but Mosure warned the debt service cost of hooking up would be tremendous. The same thing is true of the Bolton Point Water System at the southern end of Cayuga Lake. While OCWA would be a good option, Mosure said, it indicated it is not interested in connecting to systems for emergency-only purposes.
Auburn's Director of Municipal Utilities Seth Jensen asked Mosure if the firm had looked at hooking up to Skaneateles Lake. Mosure said it was on his list to investigate, but his concern was dealing with the city of Syracuse.
Aside from identifying second sources, Mosure said the project will analyze individual municipalities. The village of Aurora got a jump start on its plan as Wells College, which owns and operates the water treatment plant that services the village, looks to get out of the business. The report suggested water and sewer improvements could cost over $30 million.
Moravia Mayor Gary Mulvaney said he's concerned about his village's situation. Many water lines were installed by "the good old boys years ago," and have no tracer wire or maps to show what is where.
Mosure offered no comfort.
"Our recommendation is probably not going to be very popular," he said. There were laughs. "Folks are, they're enjoying some very affordable (water), and they deal with, the level of service, the expectation of service is very low."
In order to achieve better service and water quality, residents will have to help pay the debt service to improvements, he said. CCWSA Advisor Doug Selby said the authority would be looking at collaborations and grant opportunities.
"The biggest challenge is the money," he said. "Being able to pay for it is the key."
The final master plan report is expected to be complete by the end of the year.