As the city’s infrastructure expands, water bills at home are rising
If the city’s Water Board approves a 5.6% rate hike on water and sewer, the average homeowner would pay $991 a year, nearly double the average of $499 a decade ago.
BY TINA MOORE / NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
WEDNESDAY, MAY 8, 2013, 11:13 PM
City Councilwoman Debi Rose (D-S.I.) says ‘the well is running dry’ when it comes to the pockets of the citizens of New York.
A glass of water from your tap is about to cost more.
The city’s Water Board has scheduled a vote Friday to boost water and sewer rates 5.6%.
If approved, the average homeowner will pay $991 a year, double the average bill of $499 a decade ago – an increase three times the inflation rate.
The reason for the rate hikes is buried right under New York’s feet.
Sand hogs working as far as 550 feet, or 55 stories, below ground are excavating a huge tunnel to connect the city to its reservoirs in the Catskills by 2026 at a cost of at least $4.7 billion.
The city’s water bills will be nearly double the rate of a decade ago.
But at a series of hearings on the rate hike, residents complained they were getting soaked.
“No pun intended, but the well is running dry here,” City Councilwoman Debi Rose (D-Staten Island), told the Daily News. “How many times can you go to the public’s pocket?”
The Department of Environmental Protection, which oversees the city’s water and sewer systems, said the tunnel is desperately needed – as are other massive construction projects driving up rates.
“There’s been more capital money spent on water-wastewater infrastructure than on schools, transportation, police, fire, etcetera,” DEP Commissioner Carter Strickland said.
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“You’re paying for a clean environment and public health.”
Some projects are mandated, like the troubled Croton Water Filtration Plant, being built ten stories beneath a Bronx golf course at a cost of $3.2 billion, $2 billion over initial estimates.
But the new water tunnel is by far the biggest project of all. The city currently gets its water through two tunnels built in 1917 and 1936. Both are in need of inspection and repairs, officials said.
The tunnel under construction, Water Tunnel #3, was first conceived in the 1950s, and its Manhattan section should be done by the end of this year, DEP officials said.
“Mayor Bloomberg understood the importance of pushing these things through,” DEP Deputy Commissioner Jim Roberts as he descended on a claustrophobic lift with a reporter to one of the tunnel construction sites in lower Manhattan.
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“This is a monumental step forward.”
The “shaft site” is one of 10 in lower Manhattan where water from the tunnel will feed smaller pipes for distribution to homes and businesses.
“Everything is driven by gravity,” Roberts marveled.
The section of the new tunnel that will stretch beneath Queens and Brooklyn isn’t expected to be complete for at least another 13 years.
Juniper Park Civic Association President Robert Holden said rising water bills are the No. 1 complaint from residents.
But as the tunnel has grown, so have water bills.
The city has borrowed $29.3 billion to pay for all the water and sewer projects, compared to $12.4 in outstanding debt a decade ago, an increase of 130%. The cost of paying the interest and principal on that debt is what’s driving water and sewer bills higher.
While most New Yorkers are unaware of the projects, they are feeling the pinch of higher water and sewer bills.
Kevin Forrestal, of the Hillcrest Estates Civic Association in Queens, said water and sewer charges are eating more and more into what he has to spend.
“Water is a very important thing, can’t live without it,” he said. “But do you have to do all these (projects) at once?”
Robert Holden, president of the Juniper Park Civic Association in Queens, said rising water bills were the number one call on his group’s complaint line.
“People would understand if there was a light at the end of the tunnel but there isn’t There’s a feeling that this is just going to keep going up,” he said.
On that point, New Yorkers are right.
Water bills are projected to increase anywhere from 7.5% to 7.9% in each of the next three years.