Wednesday, July 30, 2014
Portland Shuts Off Water to 17 Homes
Backflow preventers are what keep drinking water from being contaminated by sources in the ground when water pressure suddenly drops. Drinking water has no chance of being contaminated by Mr. Hankey, experts tell me, but low pressure could cause oil or some other heavy metals to leech in through cracks in the pipes. They are also called check valves, and cost from as little as $100 to $395, depending on the plumber you use. Suburban Water does not require them for residential buildings. The PUC does require them for multi-units, businesses and new construction.
Portland is the last place in the Lehigh Valley to need these devices. That's because the water pressure of its gravity-driven pipes is already incredibly high, somewhere around 120 lbs. "It doesn't make any sense at all," notes Bob Cartwright, a Portland resident who was once a member of that Authority himself. But an engineer, of course, recommended this measure. "It's still the Perrier of the Slate Belt," Cartwright insists.
Sharon owns about seven homes served by the Portland Water Authority. She received a notice that, unless backflow preventers were installed, her water would be shut off. Her tenants received notices, too, telling them they could ignore paying their rent if the water was turned off.
Though these are just single-family homes, not businesses or multi-unit structures, she decided to comply. But her plumber told her she'd have to wait because demand was so high. She went to a meeting to get an extension because the office hours at this small authority are very limited.
That's where she met Father Steve Maco, from the tiny St. Vincent DePaul parish. Father Steve's plumber had some bad news. These check valves are installed by the shut off valve, but his was not where it should be. In fact, it is buried in the middle of the street.
The Authority first tried telling Father Steve that he's have to pay $4,000 to dig up the street. But it is Sharon Angle who pointed out to him that whatever is in the street is the Authority's responsibility. The Authority then asked Father Steve to split the cost, but at Sharon's urging, he hung tough. So the Authority will now spend $4,000 to dig up the street and connect the shut off valve to his church, so he can install a $100-200 check valve. Sharon was upset at the way the Catholic cleric was treated. "They didn't even acknowledge that he's a priest," she told me.
Sharon then made a plea for people on fixed incomes or who may have lost their jobs, but they fell on deaf ears. An authority member who does not even live in Portland told her it would be no hardship if people were to save.
"What if there's kids in one of those homes?" worries Sharon.
Last week, the water was turned off at about 17 homes. This was confirmed by Portland Mayor and Authority Chair Lance Prator last night. He told me he does not know who's been shut off, nor does he seem to much care. "They had two years to do this," he told me. "If you don't pay your electric bill for two years, won't they turn it off?"
That's true, but PPL and Met Ed don't force people to hire electricians to attach relays to the meter.
Portland, incidentally, is home to some of the highest sewer bills in the country. It was $100 per month at one point, and still hovers around $75 per month.
They must shit a lot.
Incidentally, because of a water main break on Friday, most of Portland is under a boil advisory "until further notice."