New York American Water rates are set to increase once again next month, as the third year of the utility’s conservation rate hike begins.
Under the rate increase, which goes into effect April 1, customers in the Lynbrook service district who use 8,000 gallons of water a month will see their monthly water bills increase by an average of 7.96 percent, or $4.47. Baldwin is in the Lynbrook service area.
“It’s less than one penny per 100 gallons more,” said Lynda DiMenna, president of NYAW.
The conservation rate hike has been in effect since 2017, when the New York State Public Service Commission approved NYAW’s request for a four-year phase-in of increases. According to DiMenna, the utility implemented the rate hikes to satisfy the state Department of Environmental Conservation’s request to have every Long Island water supplier reduce summertime water consumption by 15 percent by 2021. “We have to do our part,” DiMenna said.
Under the rate hikes, customers are divided into four tiers based on the amount of water they use. The more a customer uses, DiMenna said, the higher the rate they will pay. The physical size of homeowners’ water meters and the property taxes NYAW has to pay also contribute to water bills.
“[Water usage] is where our customers have the most control over reducing their bills,” DiMenna said. “If they reduce their consumption, they will be saving money.”
But Bill Varley, the utility’s deputy chief operating officer, said at a town hall last August that customers could be using less water than in previous years and still pay more. Varley’s admission came in response to residents’ complaints that their water bills skyrocketed last year, even if their usage decreased. At the town hall, Woodmere resident Pearl Bluth said she paid $177.87 for using 31,900 gallons of water in 2016, and in 2018 she paid $245.25 for using just 26,500 gallons.
State Sen. Todd Kaminsky, a Democrat from Long Beach, said he received hundreds of phone calls from constituents who complained that their water bills had increased by several hundred dollars. An analysis of the complaints his office received showed that NYAW’s base rates increased by 135 percent. Anger over the increases led to calls for public water, but in a recent interview, Kaminsky said that no municipality had any interest in taking over the utility.
“Long Islanders are tired of being taken advantage of and something must be done,” Kaminsky said in a statement. “My colleagues and I in the Senate are looking into every conceivable way to save ratepayers money.”
Baldwinite Jack McCloy has been one of the most vocal supporters of public water — he paid $106 for 11,000 gallons of water last year, he said, while his mother paid $8.03 in South Huntington for the same amount. “When other major water companies are charging less than 10 percent of what New York American Water is charging, it’s wrong,” McCloy said.
He also noted that all major Long Island water companies get their water from the same underground aquifer. “For New York American Water to say it needs to charge 10 times more to conserve the aquifer is ridiculous,” McCloy said.
In June, the PSC found that NYAW intentionally deceived the agency by filing falsified information when seeking approval for the tiered-rate system, and the PSC postponed another surcharge for residents in the Lynbrook service district, which would also have gone into effect in April.
The surcharges will now go into effect next year under a deal reached between the PSC and NYAW, which also provided credits to customers on their bills late last year. Under the deal, PA Consulting Group, an international consulting company, was selected to monitor NYAW’s controls and processes.
In November, the federal Government Accountability Office announced it would investigate how NYAW uses federal funds, as requested by U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer. Specifically, investigators will look into federal funding that Schumer contends NYAW and its parent company, American Water Co., are seeking from the Environmental Protection Agency.
To further encourage residents to conserve water, NYAW is starting a Water Control program, which will include water savings how-to kits, an indoor conservation kit, a deal for a smart irrigation controller at a reduced price and an improved customer website that will allow customers to see their water usage trends over the past three years. The company will also upgrade its communications to provide customers with an online water use calculator, water use alerts and social media postings about how they can more efficiently use water.
“We’re really going to target high- water-use customers,” said Lee Muller, the external affairs manager for NYAW.
More information about the rate increases is expected to be mailed to customers.