It is with great excitement that we share that Buffalo will be one of the first cities in the nation to deploy cutting-edge machine learning to solve 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.
Buffalo, like most communities in the nation, does not have an accurate map of where lead water pipes are located. The community organizations anchoring the map work in Buffalo – 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.”
Buffalo is the first city to join a new multi-city public-private partnership to identify and replace lead water pipes, work made possible by a Google.org grant. This is a historic time for critical domestic infrastructure projects. 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) 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 looks forward to working with the community as this project kicks-off and develops in the coming months. You can view our full press conference from July 20th, 2022 at 11:00am ET on YouTube by clicking here.
If you reside in the City of Buffalo and are concerned about lead in your water line, here are some resources from our partners at the Natural Resources Defense Council to assist:
- How Can I Find Out If I Have a Lead Service Line? (NRDC blog)
- What You Need to Know About Lead Service Line Replacement (NRDC)
- “The Lead Industry and Lead Water Pipes: A Modest Campaign” (Public Health Then and Now)
- Lead Industries Board of Directors Meeting, 1939
If you’re a City of Buffalo resident and suspect they have broken or leaking water line (symptoms include no water or low water pressure, water pooling or depressions in front lawn or sub-lawn) should call the Buffalo Water Authority at (716) 847-1065 ext 146. A Buffalo Water employee will conduct an inspection of the water service line to determine the problem and also look for lead pipe. If a faulty line has lead components, a full line replacement will be required. Residents without coverage can fill out an application for replacement with the Buffalo Water Authority. The City will provide a lead filtering water pitcher for drinking and cooking water until the replacement is completed.