New York American Water Rates Increase

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Photo courtesy of Alyssa Seidman of the Lynbrook Herald

New York American Water (NYAW), the company that provides water to homes throughout New York, announced that it will be raising Long Island customers’ rates of water in certain areas. The rates will increase by a different percentage for each district, ranging from a 4.78% increase to a 6.47% increase, which is the percentage expected to be imposed on the Lynbrook district. Residents all over the island, especially in Lynbrook, are outraged about this development. A key factor in this outrage is the fact that high levels of dioxane, a carcinogen, have been found in the water provided by this company. Many residents believe they should not be charged a raised rate for water that is not safe. 

Letters were sent by NYAW to residents in the Lynbrook, Merrick, and North Shore water districts. The letter stated that residents would see increases in their water bill as a result of the company needing more money for production costs and property taxes. Lynbrook will reportedly see a 6.47% rate increase, which is the largest proposed hike to be seen on Long Island. Merrick residents will see a 5.57% increase, and north shore district residents will see a 4.78% surge in their water bills. According to the LI Herald (liherald.com), in Lynbrook, the monthly bill will increase $4.08 for consumers using 8,000 gallons per month, which adds $48.96 to their annual bills. The monthly bill for a household using 15,000 gallons per month will increase $6.57 per month, or $78.84 per year. The company is urging customers to conserve water usage in order to reduce their bills and lessen the demand for water, as high demand can put a strain on the funds needed to supply water. In a statement made to the LI Herald, NYAW’s manager of external affairs, Lee Mueller, explained, “Conservation is important for helping our customers control their water bill, and it supports the long-term sustainability of Long Island’s sole-source aquifer, which is under significant stress.” She additionally commented on the company’s reason for needing raised rates: “Water providers throughout the region continue to face increasing costs and regulatory challenges in providing water that meets or surpasses all federal, state, and local standards. It is our obligation to meet these challenges head-on and do so effectively, efficiently, and responsibly on behalf of the 125,000 households we serve.”

Many residents say that their main concern is not the increase of the rates, but the fact that they are paying more for possibly unsafe water. Recently, alarmingly high concentrations of the chemical 1,4-dioxane were found in 16 of Long Island’s 28 public water supply wells, according to a CBS New York (newyork.cbslocal.com) article entitled, “Lawsuits Over 1, 4 Dioxane in Long Island Drinking Water Pile up.” Many lawsuits have been brought to chemical companies that manufacture this chemical. It has penetrated water supplies as a result of being in products that are regularly poured down drains such as detergents, shampoos, and cosmetics, and industrial dumping of solvents containing the chemical. While the amounts found were not over the legal limit, they are still potentially hazardous, as it may cause cancer. State legislators are considering changing chemical standards to ensure water is safe, and many districts are considering shutting down wells and enacting conservation measures until the issue is fixed. Mike Silverstein, a Lynbrook resident, expressed his concern about this danger: “I was not so upset about the rate hikes much until I learned about the dioxane in the water; before then, I never really had an issue with LIAW. I understand that the cost of everything goes up, but the quality should not be going down at the same time. I think that if the water has the amount of chemical presence in it that was reported recently, then, as far as I am concerned, it should be free until the issue is resolved.”

Others are still extremely concerned over the increases, saying that the rates have increased to unmanageable amounts for residents and companies. Many believe these rate hikes are unnecessary and unfair, especially since the quality of the water is flawed. Deputy Mayor Michael Hawxhurst described his outrage at the rate hikes: “The rate hikes in Lynbrook have been ridiculous. They have far exceeded the rate of inflation and instead of investing this money back into the system, it has gone to excessive salaries and corporate profits. Individuals and companies are struggling to pay these ever-increasing bills, and we continue to hear stories from our seniors who are struggling. While the quality of water meets federal guidelines, Lynbrook’s water has a significant iron problem. We have heard numerous complaints from our neighbors about brown water and ruined clothes because of this. American Water has struggled to fully address the problem as it involves significant investment in infrastructure to replace water mains.” Resident John Sullivan emphasized the negative effects of a private company having complete control over New York’s water operations: “I felt it was a money grab knowing that we are at their mercy because we have no other choice, it’s a monopoly. Nassau county is one of the highest taxed areas in the country. I do not think its fair. I feel that the water company is just the tip of the iceberg. If they get away with it, why wouldn’t all the other services do it. The problem is when we have no other choice, no competition to choose from.”

The Village of Lynbrook has tried to address this issue by complaining to the state, which must approve these rate hikes, in an attempt to persuade them to block the inflation of rates, but they have still approved the NYAW’s proposed increases. Mayor Alan Beach sent a letter to Governor Andrew Cuomo requesting that a limit of 2% be put on water rate increases prior to the announcement of the most recent rate hikes, but this request was not fulfilled. Hawxhurst elaborated, “The Village faces the same struggles as our residents. In fact, nearly 30% of the fire department budget is for rental of the fire hydrants. As we struggle to manage Village finances, we are dealing with the same increases our residents face. At the time of the past rate increase request, the Village submitted a letter of protest to the NY State Public Service Commission who would decide on the rates. The Public Service Commission, along with our governor and state senators, ignored the pleas by residents and municipalities and approved these outrageous rate hikes. The Governor and our state representatives then acted surprised when residents complained. The Village continues to meet with both our state senator and assemblywoman to push the issue of the high cost of water. While this has fallen on deaf ears, the Village continues to advocate on behalf of its residents. We cautiously await the recent sale of American Water to see if the issue of high rates will be addressed.”

American Water Works Co, the corporation that owns NYAW,  announced on Nov. 20 that they would be handing over their New York operations to Liberty Utilities for $608 million. They have been under much pressure from customers and lawmakers as a result of discontentment with rate hike requests and unsatisfactory service. The rate hikes announced, however, are still going through as planned, as Liberty Utilities is also a private company, and the increased rates have already been approved by the NYS Public Service Commission. Concerns about these rates and the quality of water still stand, and many residents and legislators are seeking to push for public takeover of water operations.