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Water Woes: Thursday PSC Hearings on 15% Suez Rate Hike

by Scenic Hudson

Suez Water has proposed a 15% rate increase — totaling $54 million — for their Rockland County customers. The Rockland Water Coalition, Scenic Hudson and Riverkeeper say it’s not in the public interest to pay for “an abominably conceived and mismanaged [desalination plant] that was proven to not be needed.”  NYS Senator David Carlucci calls the increase “ill-conceived.” The public is invited to share their thoughts on this proposal at 6p on Thursday, Sept 29 at the Rockland County Legislature Building, 11 New Hempstead Rd., New City.

Photo: Lake DeForest, Rockland County. Credit: Laurie Seeman. Source: Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory.The desalination plant proposed by Suez NY – an energy-intensive and expensive “last resort” technology typically only seen in arid climates starved for water – was ordered abandoned by the Public Service Commission (PSC) in December, 2015, when it determined there was no immediate need for such a facility in Rockland County.
When it ordered abandonment of the desalination plant, PSC predicted that an additional 5 million gallons a day (MGD) of water supply for Rockland County may be needed by the year 2035. In addition, water scarcity is expected to be the next big natural resource crisis to face the US. Comparatively water-rich areas such as New York State and Rockland County are not immune to the pressures that unchecked consumption and wasteful management place on our finite water resources. The way to avoid another expensive misstep like the abandoned desalination plant, and to achieve a sustainable future water supply for Rockland County at the same time, is through greater efficiency and an effective water conservation program. New York has an immediate opportunity to be a national leader in water system management and conservation, and set an example in the same way it has already made a name for itself with visionary energy policies implemented through the PSC. Having already seen the consequences of poor water planning in the form of a hefty bill for a white elephant desalination plant, Suez NY’s service territory in Rockland County is the perfect place to serve as a model program for water conservation in New York.

Rockland’s NYS Senator Opposes Rate Increase

DavidCarlucci201112A substantial utility rate increase is being proposed for 300,000 Rockland County residents, and I’d like you to join me in opposing this ill-conceived rate hike. The Public Service Commission and Suez Water New York are holding a joint public hearing on the proposed utility rate hike for Suez Water customers. I have opposed the 15% rate hike from its inception, and the new joint proposal changes little to protect our ratepayers.
This will be the last public hearing on the issue, so we urge all our neighbors to come make sure your voices are heard!
In consideration of the impact the rate hike will have on the residents of our district, I hope you join us at the hearing.
— David Carlucci, New York State Senator,  38th Senate District

Day Says No Way

Rockland County Legislator Edwin Day (R) New City
“Without question, this proposed rate hike will unfairly burden residents and businesses in Rockland County. 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.
“By allowing the desal process to go forward, the PSC is complicit in driving our water rates even higher. Rubber stamping the request under the auspices of ‘There’s nothing we can do’ or ‘It’s the cost of doing business’ is not satisfactory.” — Rockland County Executive Ed Day

Suez NY and the staff of the PSC filed a proposed settlement (called a “Joint Proposal”) with the PSC on September 2nd. The Conservation Plan contained in the Joint Proposal is far from a model program, however. Suez NY has wasted the opportunity to provide a robust, cutting-edge plan to address water needs through the smartest, most sustainable and cost-effective methods, and instead has proposed a plan that will only do the bare minimum. Suez sets a water conservation target of only 1 MGD in savings through a rebate program, with one-third of this coming from customers who would have switched to water-efficient fixtures anyway. The company’s proposal also does little to better detect leaks and repair its notoriously leaky infrastructure—for the year ended August 31, 2015, it is estimated that nearly 15 percent of water the company produced was lost to leakage. Suez NY proposes to adopt a new rate structure despite questions about underlying customer classification data, with no commitment to undertake a proper classification study until its next rate filing.
Scenic Hudson, Riverkeeper and the Rockland Water Coalition commissioned an expert study to examine water conservation opportunities in Rockland County. This study concluded that there was cost-effective opportunity to reach a demand reduction of over 4 MGD between conservation and water loss reduction. The additional cost for this improved conservation program would be a fraction of what Suez NY estimates new supply infrastructure would cost on a per-MGD basis.
In short, the program proposed by Suez NY sets targets that are too low and does little to truly incentivize water efficiency, while providing little to no transparency or accountability. This virtually assures that rather than reaching water equilibrium through cost-effective demand management and leak repair programs, Rockland ratepayers will ultimately have to foot the bill for a much more expensive supply side solution.
Suez itself agrees that as compared to new supply wells at an estimated cost of $12 million per million gallons a day of water supplied, conservation and demand-side measures are far more cost effective. Not only is smart water management good for the environment and public health, it will save ratepayers millions of dollars. We call on the PSC to order Suez NY to develop and implement a model water conservation plan for Rockland County as an example for New York State and beyond.

Scenic Hudson is a non-profit dedicated to protecting and restoring the Hudson River, its riverfront and the majestic vistas and working landscapes beyond as an irreplaceable national treasure for America and a vital resource for residents and visitors.

Photo: Lake DeForest. Credit: Laurie Seeman.

Nyack People & Places, a weekly series that features photos and profiles of citizens and scenes near Nyack, NY, is sponsored by Sun River Health.

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