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Getting their fill: Few residents show to first-time call to fill water totes, more dates set

By Joanne Beck
bethany water tanker nov. 2023
Bethany Town Board member Timothy Embt helps out at the water tanker on Saturday at the town hall parking lot.
Photo by Howard Owens

Jerry Kujawski had no trouble with Saturday’s rule of first-come, first-served to fill up his 300-gallon water tote. In fact, he made a return trip to fill it up a second time to help out a neighbor, and he was only the third or fourth person who had been at Bethany Town Hall to do so for the two-hour fill-up period.

When it seemed as though there would have been dozens of people clamoring for a go at the pump connected to a tanker of water to shore up their dried-up wells, the parking lot was empty most of the time. 

Town Supervisor Carl Hyde Jr. had put out the notice that anyone with no water could get their totes filled between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. Saturday at the town hall, and he and members of the Bethany town board and fire department stood at the tanker ready and waiting.

Kujawski, a resident of Bethany for the last 28 years, had never seen a drought this bad, he said, though it’s been steadily getting drier the last three years or so. He had a 300-gallon tote on a trailer and dumped that into his well to be used for necessities in the household and, through reverse osmosis, drinking water.

He then returned to fill it again for a neighbor who didn’t have the means to transport a tote. 

“We've had just a little bit of a drought sometimes in the summertime, and then we wait about a week or two, but other than that, it's just the last three years have been the worst,” he said. “Since the end of July, I’ve been hauling water. I’ve been getting it at Stafford, at the highway department, it’s an 18-mile round trip, sometimes twice a week.”

By comparison, it’s only a couple of miles from his house to Town Hall, where he’ll be able to fill up for the next month while the town has possession of the tanker. New York State Office of Emergency Management drove it from the Albany area filled with 6,700 gallons of water and has loaned it to Bethany for 30 days. Genesee County personnel will transport it for refills, County Manager Matt Landers said Thursday.

“And I appreciate it, I don’t know what I’m gonna do in another month after this leaves, they’ll have to come up with another system, hopefully, for us,” Kujawski said. “This is the worst year that we’ve had, to haul all summer, probably into September or maybe when you get to July and somewhere in there in August … I never had to haul water this long, I’m gonna go towards Christmastime. So it’s kind of crazy.”

Hyde took the low turnout in stride, saying that he was “disappointed, but I’m not disappointed.” 

 “I have several residents who said they were going to come today and get water, they know we're going to be open 11 to one, they know we're doing this, those that show up and get water, get water and those that don't show up, they’re on their own. The town board is here making an honest effort to do something for the residents of Bethany. If they don't take advantage of it, there's nothing we can do about it,” he said. “We're gonna do it again Tuesday between 5 and 5:30 for two hours, and maybe Thursday or Friday, the same thing, we'll know more as we go. It all depends on how much we take out of the tank. Once we get the tank down to zero or close to it, I have to call the county. They're gracious enough to come and get the tanker, haul it into Batavia, fill it and then bring it back. So it all depends on how many show up. Or how many don’t. So when it's empty, it's empty. There's nothing I can do about it for two or three days.”

He has set two more days for fills: 5 to 7 p.m. Tuesday and 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday.

Town Board member Diane Fowler is one of the lucky ones with water, but she understands what so many are going through, she said.

“The situation around us is really horrendous for people that have to live without water. And even the people that have water, it may not be drinkable, you know, or it's just eating up their pipes, their appliances, and different things like that. So, to get public water here, this is the biggest water district that we're trying to put in, District Five, and to get this water in will give the majority of Bethany public water, which will make such a difference to improve their lives,” she said. “And I mean, that's what we want to do. We want to make it healthy for people to live here. And people want to come here, that's the next thing. Some people may like the idea of being in a rural community and love the idea of Bethany, because it's what, seven miles to Batavia, seven miles to Le Roy, seven miles to Warsaw. And it's a great place. But when you hear these stories about not having water, then it keeps people away. “

The town applied for a state Water Infrastructure Improvement Assistance grant once and was denied. Another application has been submitted, and town officials are waiting to hear about that, hopefully by the end of the year, Hyde said. The grant would supplement another grant of $16.5 million already obtained to install District Five, which is geographically central to Bethany.

The other option would be to obtain a low-interest loan for the $5 million needed to complete the project, which would be paid for by district residents. 

Meanwhile, town residents have been driving several miles roundtrip to fill totes with water. Firefighter Don Frank thought that perhaps residents hadn’t heard about the tanker and that it would take time for word to get around. 

“We’re going to hit every household with a flyer,” he said. “This is just the beginning of what has to happen. This is going to be a big project.”

Another consideration is that not all residents have a 250- or 500-gallon tote handy, the trailer necessary to haul it behind their vehicle, he said, and the means to empty it into a well. Water is 8.34 pounds per gallon, so a filled 250-gallon tote weighs 2,087 pounds.  

Jeff Fluker, a board member and chief of Bethany Volunteer Fire Department, said there’s a whole other issue that’s at stake with the ongoing drought situation: the potential for not having enough water to fight fires.

“There's a big, big water shortage. So in order to get water, the ponds have now dried up. The ponds are very low, there's hardly anything in the ponds at all,” Fluker said. “So now we’ve got to drive farther away to a hydrant across town to get water from there. Or if there's a creek, a spot in the creek where we can get something in there, maybe, but other than that, it's gonna be a tough goal.” 

Fluker hopes that someone — perhaps Genesee County legislators — will have a plan to help out these areas of highest dehydration. Otherwise, there may come that moment of reality when flames are blazing, and the hose is dry.

“So that’s something that we need to get moving on, yesterday. I don’t know if anybody realizes what it’s like not to have water. I mean, they think they don’t have water for their homes. But what if something happened, a fire comes along, does anybody think about that?” he said. “What’s going to happen there? That’s even worse yet. Now you’re going to be homeless, just because we didn’t have water that probably could have been fixed awhile ago.”

He said that there are discussions happening, but it’s hard to get water with farther drives and “a long, drawn-out process trying to get something done in a short period of time.”

“And it’s, you know, it’s an uphill battle,” he said. “Even in the middle of the winter, you can cut a hole in a pond and get your water out that way. You can’t even do that. You don’t even have water to cut out to get.”

Town Board member Tim Embt feels “very fortunate” that he has water and a water system installed at his home, he said, but also understands that “everybody else here has been fighting this for years and years.”

“I mean, we arguably should have had municipal water here 30 years ago, through the county, but that never happened. So this is where we are today. All we can do in the short term is help people out as best we can and hopefully get the grants from the  State to actually go through with the project as planned without having to bump their taxes up to a reasonable level,” he said. “Because that's the only thing that really concerns me is, I know we have a lot of retirees on fixed incomes in the town here, and that's a lot of money on top of what they're already paying. I understand you’ve gotta have water, I certainly understand that. But unfortunately, in this world, nothing is free.”

All of them said that they will most likely be there for water fills a few times a week, including Saturdays, for the next month. Hyde will issue public notices of future times and dates on The Batavian. 

bethany water tanker nov. 2023
Bethany Town Supervisor Carl Hyde Jr. explains a map of the Bethany water districts and how an acquifier runs all the way around the town property but not on it. 
Photo by Howard Owens
bethany water tanker nov. 2023
Bethany resident Jerry Kujawski fills up his tote with water Saturday morning at Bethany Town Hall.
Photo by Howard Owens
bethany water tanker nov. 2023
Bethany firefighter Don Frank helps out with the water-filling process Saturday.
Photo by Howard Owens
bethany water tanker nov. 2023
Photo by Howard Owens

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