New York American Water rates are set to increase again next month, as the third year of the utility’s conservation rate hike begins.
Under the rate increase, which will go into effect April 1, customers in the Lynbrook service district who use 8,000 gallons of water per month will see their monthly water bills increase by an average of 7.96 percent, or $4.47. Customers in the Merrick service district who use 8,000 gallons of water each month will see an average 7.53 percent, or $3.30, increase in their bills, and similar customers in Sea Cliff will see an average increase of 1.81 percent, or $1.32.
“Water still remains less than a penny per gallon,” 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.
In response to a request for feedback on the Lynbrook/East Rockaway Facebook page, Lynbrook resident Shannan Murphy Pearsall said she could not understand the need for an increase. “Why is it that we used to pay quarterly bills that were never as high as most of our current monthly bills?” she wrote.
Steve Marrandino was also upset with the increase for the Lynbrook service area. “Why don’t they explain why they need a rate hike of this size?” he wrote. “Why does Lynbrook get one of the largest?”
Dawn Raymond Falbee shared a similar sentiment. “How is it fair that we pay ridiculous rates for water and our friends in other areas pay a fraction of our prices?” she wrote. “I would still love to know why the PSC approves this.”
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 rate they would pay. The physical size of a water meter and the taxes NYAW pays also contribute to the water bill.
“[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 26,500 gallons — more than 5,000 gallons less.
State Sen. Todd Kaminsky, a Democrat from Long Beach, said he received more than 400 calls from constituents who complained that their water bills 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 high rate 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. He later expressed frustration over the hikes.
“Long Islanders are tired of being taken advantage of and something must be done,” Kaminsky said. “My colleagues and I in the Senate are looking into every conceivable way to save ratepayers money.”
In June, the PSC found that NYAW had 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 start next year under a deal reached by the PSC and NYAW. 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 that it would investigate how NYAW uses federal funds, as requested by U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer. Specifically, investigators will look into federal funding that Schumer contends NYAW and its parent company, American Water, 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 website that will allow customers to see their water usage 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 effectively use water.
“We’re really going to target high- water-use customers,” said Lee Muller, NYAW’s external affairs manager.
More information about the rate increases is expected to be mailed to customers.
Anthony O’Reilly contributed to this story.