Wondering Why Your Water Bill Went Up Again or What’s Up with Suez?

For those of us not on well water, we saw an increase in our water rates February 1, 2017 to compensate Suez Water New York for the cost it incurred in the planning of a desalination plant in Haverstraw. After considerable resistance from the community, the Public Service Commission ordered that the project be canceled and that the $54 million sustained by Suez be passed on to its Rockland customers. To date, $9 million has been paid back, $45 million to go.

Peggy Kurtz, head of Rockland Sierra Club, one of the organizations that opposed the plan, writes, “The energy-intensive desalination process would have locked Rockland County residents into increased greenhouse gas emissions at a time when we urgently need to reduce our carbon footprint. In addition to the considerable energy used to run the plant and the enormous cost, the intake pipe would have been located in the plume of leaks from Indian Point into the Hudson River, resulting in trace amounts of radioactive products in Rockland’s drinking water.”

The Commission ordered Suez to come up with a water conservation plan to maximize the use of existing water supplies more efficiently. This includes rebates of up to $100 for the purchase of highly water-efficient fixtures like toilets and shower heads and a free water audit program at commercial properties to review water usage in an effort to educate owners on ways of using water more efficiently.

According to Kurtz, Suez’s conservation plan has dramatically underperformed, to the extent that the company should have been subject to a fine according to guidelines set in the previous case. “Suez’s Conservation Plan has focused on ineffective measures, such as rebates for efficient fixtures that are already required by New York State. If we do not get more effective water conservation efficiency measures, we may find ourselves in just a few years once again facing the extraordinary costs and environmental impacts of another big supply project such as desalination or wastewater reuse.”

Rockland Sierra Club has advocated for more cost-effective water conservation measures, including a greater focus on measures to reduce lawn watering, one of the key drivers of peak summer usage. Water audits for automated lawn watering systems can reduce leaks and improve efficiency with proper settings, avoiding waste of water and money. “Like so much else in Suez’s Conservation Plan, the commercial water audits look good on paper,” says Kurtz, “but only a very small percentage were implemented, wasting ratepayers’ money. To make the Conservation Plan far more effective, Sierra Club has advocated for better practices used in other communities across the country, but to date Suez has resisted outside input.”

Now, on to why we have seen yet another rate increase starting with our October bill. This year the Public Service Commission approved another rate increase for Suez customers in Rockland and three other areas (parts of Putnam, Westchester and Tioga counties), which Suez has recently merged together. You will see a 9.1% increase or an average of $4.05 a month for the next four years on your Suez water bill. This is to cover $440 million for infrastructure improvements such as pipe and hydrant replacement, upgrades to dams, wells, storage tanks and pumps and the improvement of water quality plus a controversial move to a new headquarters at the Lake DeForest operations in West Nyack. It is important to note that a 2017 report by N.Y. State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli declares, “The cost of water for the consumer varies considerably…The most expensive of the major water providers with a typical cost of over $110 a month is Suez Water, a private water company that supplies much of Rockland County.”

NB. Mandated by the New York State Department of Health, Suez Water New York sent out a letter dated November 6 to its customers entitled, “Important Information About Your Drinking Water.” It acknowledged that our water contains close to double the amount of the chemical perfluorooctanoic acid (19 ppt) above the State’s maximum contaminant level (10 ppt) in drinking water. PFOA, as it is referred to, is a manmade chem- ical used in industrial applications such as floor wax, firefighting foam and sealants and is applied to carpeting and textiles like Teflon and Gore-Tex.

Suez reports, “PFOA has caused a wide range of health effects when studied in animals that were exposed to high levels” including damage to “the liver and immune system and impaired fetal growth and development.” There is also “suggestive evidence for causing cancer.” One concern is that it stays in the human body for an extended period of time. Consequently, older people tend to have higher levels because it builds up over time.