In an article on February 28, 2016 in the Journal News – ‘Rockland water bills could rise $8 a month under request‘ – we learn that our local water company, Suez/United Water wants to recoup $54M for failed desalination plan. Water bills for most Rockland customers would rise by $8.17 a month under a request submitted by Suez Water New York.
The Journal News states: The water company’s proposal, which would go into effect Feb. 1, 2017, needs state Public Service Commission (PSC) approval. Suez also seeks to recoup $54 million the company says it spent on its failed plan to build a desalination plant along the Hudson River in Haverstraw. About half of the proposed rate increase is attributed to recovering those costs.
The PSC, which officially told Suez to abandon the desalination plant in December, has approved $39 million the company wants customers to reimburse for the scotched Haverstraw Water Treatment Supply. PSC is reviewing another $15 million, Suez spokesman Bill Madden said Friday. Suez wants to spread the costs of the desalination plant over 20 years to lessen the impact on customers.
The rate hike request also calls for significant investment in the company’s infrastructure, including improvements to dams and storage tanks and an accelerated water-loss recover program. It also seeks to secure other incremental water sources from other wells and systems.
Vice President and General Manager Chris Graziano said increases in franchise and real estate taxes are major reasons Suez needs to hike rates. Rockland County Executive Ed Day said the proposal would unfairly burden ratepayers. “What’s most troubling is that nearly half of the proposed increase will go toward recouping monies expended by Suez during its push for a Hudson River desalination plant in north Rockland.”
The company’s infrastructure took a heavy hit in a 2015 report by a nationally known consultant who said its pipes had been losing more water than they should and said the company’s record-keeping on its supply was difficult to decipher. The company responded by issuing a report of its own that reached different conclusions.
George Potanovic of the Rockland Water Coalition said the company’s goal of potentially saving 1 million gallons of water a day over 10 years seems like a low objective. The coalition fought the desalination plant and has opposed passing along costs related to the plan onto customers. Rockland Legislator Harriet Cornell, chair of Rockland’s Task Force on Water Resources Management, said she would be looking closely at the details of the rate and surcharge requests. Cornell said Suez should be integrating recommendations made by the task force in a conservation plan required by the PSC.
Charles Clewsow, a 38 year resident of Clarkstown and a retired executive from the financial services industry, provided the following commentary about the proposed water rate increase to the Editors of Rockland Voice ……
To: The Editor Rockland Voice
I read the Journal News article and reader comments regarding the recent rate increase request by Suez. I concluded that it does not accurately depict the facts with regard to what is actually involved in arriving at why our water rates are higher than what it actually costs to deliver a safe supply of purified water to our homes, which no one denies, Suez and its predecessor companies have been doing for decades.
It is my very clear understanding that the PSC ordered United Water to come up with a secondary source of water supply for Rockland County and the Desal Plant was chosen by Suez as the best way to proceed. The PSC and DEC saw no objection, indicating their approval. Many years later, after expending tens of millions of dollars, the same PSC caved in to political pressure and ordered Suez to abandon their business plan.
Legislator Harriet Cornell and a misguided group of unqualified local environmentalists interfered with the business decision to proceed with the Desal Pilot Plant approved by the PSC and later the DEC. The DEC also approved the efficiency and safety of the Pilot Plant after it was constructed, safely filtering hundreds of thousands gallons of purified water utilizing the very same process of reverse osmosis employed by the bottled water companies. These two Governmental Agencies essentially control how Suez runs their operation. We pay a lot of taxes to keep these Agencies up and running. Suez must follow their orders and direction or face severe penalties. The word “ordered” is emphasized in both instances.
This interference by the Environmental Groups and a newly created (County Legislature) Water Commission are the two primary reasons behind much of the proposed increase in the cost of water. Taxes imposed by the various layers of Government, which seem to never be mentioned also amount to a staggering 37% of our water bills.
The real cost of water averages about $45 a month (much less for 20% of ratepayers) which will increase to about $51 a month, before taxes, if the proposed increase is totally approved. Taxes increase these numbers to the $62 and $70 mentioned in the Journal News article. The cost of water would be even less without the burden of dealing with the constant interference of the various Environmental Groups and the Rockland Water Commission under Harriet Cornell. Not very well publicized is the fact that Cornell has hired unreliable experts whose costly and inaccurate reports were resoundly rejected by the PSC. This, of course, further adds unnecessary payroll costs, perhaps in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, to the already overburdened County Government. Apparently the Legislature did not get the message that the Day Administration, from day one, wanted to cut costs, not increase them. This is the same Harriet Cornell who in her numerous years as Chair of the County Legislature ran the County into the ground, leaving newly elected County Executive Ed Day with $42 in the bank to run the County. It is she and the various Environmental Groups who are directly responsible for the proposed increases in our water bills.
Rockland County residents are already paying NYS taxes for the PSC and DEC to monitor Suez. The cost of these various Environmental Groups and the Rockland Water Commission only add costs and exacerbate the situation. Taxes imposed by all layers of Government are also a huge part of the problem but are surprisingly never mentioned by Suez, the Rockland Water Commission or the Environmental Groups. Taxes should be broken out on all water bills. These factors should be part of the discussion going forward as it relates to the new rate case before the PSC.
In my humble opinion, the cost of delivering purified water in Rockland County would not be unreasonable were it not for the taxes and outside interference by the self serving Harriet Cornell and the various Environmental Groups who constantly interfere in the PSC approved business decisions of our local water company.