|Date:||April 1, 2020|
Help us call on the City of Buffalo and Buffalo Water to restore services to households without water. For almost two weeks, community and legal services organizations have pressed the City to do two things: communicate more widely and effectively about how people can get their water restored, and take proactive steps to restore water. In this state of emergency, the time for delay is over.
Read the letter sent to Mayor Byron Brown and Oluwole “OJ” McFoy, Chairman of the Buffalo Water Board, below:
Mayor Byron Brown
65 Niagara Square, Room 201
Buffalo, NY 14202
Oluwole “OJ” McFoy
Chairman of the Buffalo Water Board
65 Niagara Square, Buffalo Sewer Authority, Room 1038
Buffalo, NY 14202
Re: Proactive Action to Restore Water to Combat COVID-19 in Buffalo
Dear Mayor Brown and Chairman McFoy:
We write to urge you to protect Buffalo residents from the COVID-19 health crisis by proactively restoring service to households without water. For almost two weeks, community and legal services organizations have pressed the City to do two things: First, communicate more widely and effectively how people can get their water restored; second, take proactive steps to go out and restore water. In this state of emergency, the time for delay is over.
As of March 31, 2020, the virus has claimed eight lives in Erie County and 499 people have tested positive. Medical and scientific authorities are unanimous that the number of people infected with the virus has not peaked, and that the single most effective way to ward it off, along with physical isolation, is simply washing one’s hands. Yet residents without water cannot perform this simple task and, as a result, are put directly in harm’s way. Further, it is impossible to “stay at home” without water, and these residents continue to visit store after store in search of bottled water for drinking and washing at home. It is not an exaggeration to say that the absence of water could create a life and death situation in these households.
We commend the City for suspending water shut-offs on March 17, but the emergency policy on restoring water to those previously shut off is inadequate. On March 26, the Buffalo News Editorial Board joined our call for the City to “aggressively restore water service where it was cut off.” A March 28 story in the Washington Post, “When corona virus hits, but the water is shut off,” highlighted challenges to restoring water in Buffalo – demonstrating the growing national attention on this issue.
The City’s existing policy requires that people call the Buffalo Water Board to request service restoration. This approach presumes that 1) people living without water have heard about a phone number to call to restore water; 2) people living without water—who didn’t have the resources for minimum payments to restore their water before the crisis—have access to phones during a “stay at home” advisory; and 3) the City’s very limited announcements that water can be turned on at no cost have reached the many people still without water.
Those now living without water are the most vulnerable people in our community. City officials must act to help them, and we ask that you pursue the following actions to reach people and restore their water:
Effective Communications and Outreach
Proactive Service Restoration
The number of people who need to be reached is great. According to data reported by Veolia, the private company that manages billing for Buffalo Water, from 2015 through March 2019, the City terminated water in over 17,000 instances. Throughout the year, City workers shut off water each week to about 80 households. During an unprecedented public health crisis that endangers the lives of residents, the same staff can be dispatched to restore water to occupied homes. What could be a more essential service than providing access to water during this crisis?
As the practical steps above demonstrate, the City of Buffalo can take quick action to reach people and restore their water. In taking these steps, the City can demonstrate that providing access to water for ALL of its residents is a top priority.