July 20th, 2022 – Buffalo Rising Online
By: Liberty Darr
Buffalo is making monumental strides forward when it comes to solving a century-old problem: the location of an estimated 40,000 drinking water pipes made from toxic lead, most of them likely to be found in low-income communities of color. Today local community groups, mapping experts, and elected officials held a kick-off event to announce development of an online, interactive map that will allow Buffalo residents to learn the known or likely composition of their home water pipes. These advancements rank Buffalo as one of the first in the nation to deploy this cutting-edge machine learning. The community organizations anchoring the map work – Heart of the City Neighborhoods, Open Buffalo, and Citizen Action of New York – are working in coalition with the national environmental organizations WE ACT for Environmental Justice and NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council), with technical support provided by BlueConduit, a water analytics company.
“Buffalo residents deserve safe drinking water, which is why we need to work quickly to remove every lead water pipe in the city, especially in neighborhoods of color that are likely to bear a disproportionate burden of contamination. By sharing information about where lead pipes are located in a transparent and accessible way, Buffalo’s lead pipe map will help residents take the steps necessary to protect themselves and their families from lead exposure, including using water filters,” said Stephanie Simeon, Executive Director of Heart of the City Neighborhoods and Buffalo resident.
Buffalo Mayor Byron W. Brown said, “Today, we are excited to welcome WE ACT, NRDC and BlueConduit to join us as partners, along with Buffalo’s own frontline organizations: Heart of the City, Open Buffalo, and Citizen Action, as we engage residents to better identify lead service lines in homes. My administration continues to invest millions through our Replace Old Lead Lines (ROLL) program and we remain steadfast in our commitment to safeguard children from being poisoned by lead.”
“Flint opened our eyes to the devastating human costs of lead-contaminated water. I expect Buffalo’s map will become a model for other environmental justice communities in New York State that want to get the lead out of their tap water to protect the well-being of children and families,” said Rosemary Rivera of Citizen Action of New York.
“As a mother of two young children, I’m constantly worrying about their safety and well-being. We can’t continue to steal the futures of our children by being slow to act. It is imperative to educate our community and empower residents. The lead crisis is something we have the power to mitigate but we must act collaboratively and swiftly,” said Franchelle C.H. Parker, executive director of Open Buffalo and Buffalo resident.
The Buffalo Water Service Line map will be informed by maps created for communities in Flint, Michigan, and Toledo, Ohio. Those maps allow residents to find out the current pipe material at their homes, to find the available information about pipe inspections at their address, to link to the City’s inspection permission form, and to access resources for steps they can take to protect themselves and their families if their homes have lead water lines.
“Safe drinking water is a basic human right. Lead in drinking water poses a serious risk to the people of Buffalo and communities nationwide,” said Eric Schwartz, BlueConduit Co-Founder and associate professor of marketing at Ross School of Business, University of Michigan. “BlueConduit is proud to provide the data science, analytics, and mapping technologies behind this effort via our software platform. Working collaboratively with this strong partnership — Buffalo community, Buffalo Water, WE ACT, NRDC and other project partners — gives us the reach and the power to get the lead out in Buffalo efficiently and equitably, prioritizing those most vulnerable and at risk.”
In this historic time for critical domestic infrastructure projects, the Queen City is the first to join a new multi-city public-private partnership to identify and replace lead water pipes, work made possible by a Google.org grant. The Biden Administration secured a landmark $1.2 trillion federal infrastructure package allocating $15 billion to remove lead pipes from communities nationwide, and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is set to distribute about $50 billion in infrastructure funding for clean water—the largest single U.S. investment in drinking water and wastewater systems. Two additional cities will join this pilot project at a future date.
Heart of the City Neighborhoods, Inc. (HOCN) is a not-for-profit corporation dedicated to creating affordable housing programs for Buffalo neighborhoods, helping to improve and strengthen the community. HOCN has worked together with residents, neighborhood organizations, financial institutions, and real estate professionals to make Buffalo’s core communities a better place to live. While their original housing programs worked to increase homeownership opportunities, their most recent programming has made an effort to stabilize homeownership through repairing occupied housing, as well as ensuring tenants have increased access to safe, affordable housing opportunities. Visit us online at www.hocn.org and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.
WE ACT for Environmental Justice is a Northern Manhattan membership-based organization whose mission is to build healthy communities by ensuring that people of color and/or low-income residents participate meaningfully in the creation of sound and fair environmental health and protection policies and practices. WE ACT has offices in New York and Washington, D.C. Visit us at weact.org and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) is an international nonprofit environmental organization with more than 3 million members and online activists. Since 1970, our lawyers, scientists, and other environmental specialists have worked to protect the world’s natural resources, public health, and the environment. NRDC has offices in New York City, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Bozeman, MT, and Beijing. Visit us at www.nrdc.org and follow us on Twitter @NRDC.
BlueConduit is a water analytics company that has developed cutting-edge, predictive machine learning software to locate lead service lines. The company’s solutions enable utilities to focus their resources on digging where the lead is and accelerating the removal of this significant health concern, saving millions of dollars in avoided digs. Since 2016, BlueConduit has worked with more than 50 municipalities and inventoried nearly 1 million service lines, which serve more than 2 million people. For more information, follow us on Twitter @blueconduitai or on LinkedIn.