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Hate That Dirty Tap Water

Bill Morris in Building Operations

Nassau County

Dirty Water

A copper pipe at Cedarhurst Park (center) with white spots caused by iron-induced corrosion (picture courtesy of McCready & Rice Plumbing)

The Cedarhurst Park garden apartments were built in the 1950s in the Five Towns area of Nassau County, just east of John F. Kennedy International Airport. Michael Herzog moved into the 68-unit complex in 1962, and he has been president of the co-op board since the conversion in 1988. In all those years, Herzog has never stopped fighting an implacable foe: tap water that periodically runs brown, with an accompanying drop in water pressure.

The source of this chronic headache is a high, naturally-occurring content of iron and other minerals in the underground aquifer that supplies the area’s drinking water – and, in the bargain, constantly erodes the infrastructure, from water mains to feeder lines, water heaters, tanks, valves and indoor pipes. Fixtures that should last 20 years routinely need to be replaced every four or five years, due to iron-induced corrosion.

“This has been an ongoing problem, and not just for our building,” Herzog says. “It’s all over Long Island.”

Herzog, a retired accountant, has badgered the local water company, New York American Water, to replace two mains that supply the co-op’s water. “I kept fighting and fighting for five years, and they did accelerate the replacement of the first main in 2010,” Herzog says. Discoloration and water-pressure problems were alleviated – but not eliminated – and the co-op had to pay $13,600 to replace its clogged feeder pipes. The second main was replaced last year.

Herzog has also worked to get shareholders to accept that the only way to deal with certain problems is to be realistic, then adjust. To that end, the co-op pays for major repairs – such as a prematurely worn-out $16,900 water heater and storage tank – out of the co-op’s $1 million reserve fund. That fund has been fed over the years by mortgage re-financings and refunds from contested property taxes, while maintenance has risen only slightly. For smaller items – such as replacing a worn-out $3,000 valve here, a $6,000 coil there – the board dips into two line-items in its annual operating budget: $7,000 for major plumbing repairs, and $28,000 for general repairs and maintenance.

“Those are not huge items,” Herzog says, noting that the co-op’s annual budget is about $650,000. “But if you’re replacing (fixtures) every five years instead of every 20 years, those expenses are not necessary. And they come every year.”

New York American Water says it has invested $4.6 million in the Five Towns since 2014, replacing more than 21,000 feet of cast-iron pipes with cement-lined pipes, which are less susceptible to corrosion. The company is now performing one of its twice-yearly flushings of the system.

Len Williams, vice president of McCready & Rice Plumbing, has been servicing Cedarhurst Park co-op for 15 years. “The problem is the natural geology,” Williams says. “The corrosion is really bad in the water-heating units and horizontal pipes because (the minerals) eat through copper. The only solution would be to treat the water at its source. The cost for a co-op to treat the water would be prohibitive – to buy the equipment, install it, maintain it. That’s why most co-ops in the area grin and bear it.”

Herzog isn’t grinning, but he and his fellow shareholders have learned bear it. “There’s nothing we can do,” he says. “Our fate is that we live in an area where the water has a high iron content. The truth is that whenever the system deteriorates, we have to pay for it and get it fixed as quickly as possible. We’re dealing with an issue that’s not going to change.”

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