Apr 19, 2012
By Scott P. Moore
Standard Staff Reporter
A rate increase of nearly two-and-a-half percent has begun to affect customers of Long Island American Water, the private utility company that maintains the water system throughout The Five Towns and Atlantic Beach, even as an excess iron problem continues throughout the system.
The New York State Public Service Commission approved a rate increase by Long Island American Water (LIAW) earlier this year, allowing the company to raise rates for the first time since they were previously set in 2008. According to a press release by the Public Service Commision on March 15th, LIAW’s rates increased by 2.48 percent for a residential customer using 72,000 gallons of water per year. The increase brings the total water bill for the year up to $391.73 for that customer, up from the previous average of $382.25.
The rate will continue to increase for two years after the first increase, including a 2.63 percent increase during 2013 and a 2.17 percent increase in 2014. The final increase will bring the average LIAW customer’s rate to about $411 a year. The rate increase went into effect starting on April 1st. Rates increased on the average by about two percent between 2008 and 2011, according to LIAW President William Varley. In the billing period from April 2011 to March 2012, Varley said LIAW did not raise rates. Last year, LIAW initially looked to increase rates by as much as 20 percent, but the Commission knocked down the large increase as the year went on.
“The rate increases are just caused by capital improvements,” said Varley. “They go towards helping us pay to treat the system.”
While the amount paid for the water services provided by LIAW head upwards, the iron problems continue to plague the system from Inwood to Lynbrook. An annual water quality report published by LIAW for the year 2011 found the system had roughly twice the “maximum content level” (MCL), or legal limit, of iron in the entire LIAW system. The MCL for iron is 0.3 milligrams per liter; the source tested last year ranged from as little as 0.14 mg/l up to a maximum 0.63 mg/l. However in a public letter sent by Varley on February 29th in response to public comments, he noted the legal limit for iron levels to be 1.5 mg/l as long as the utility uses a sequestering agent such as LIAW does with sodium silicate.
Last year, The South Shore Standard reported the levels in our area topped out at over three times the normally enforced legal amount at nearly 1 milligram per liter during tests conducted throughout 2010.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) includes iron as a “secondary standard,” or a contaminant not considered to cause health problems, and are not enforced by the organization. Water providers are not obligated to test for these foreign particles, but are asked to check on a voluntary basis. Iron is noted for giving off unwanted aesthetic effects, including taste, smell and cloudiness, and technical effects, including a rusty color, sediment build-up, a metallic taste and reddish or orange staining in tubs and sinks.
“Historically, the South Shore of Long Island has high iron deposits,” said Varley. “Since 2005, we’ve taken aggressive effort against filtering it out. We have constructed $16 million worth of facilities to remove iron from the water.” Varley also said that LIAW had spent over $6 million on water main replacements throughout its service area.
LIAW has begun work on a new iron filtration plant in Lynbrook that the company hopes will help to ease the problem, but the facility will not be completed until 2013. LIAW has also replaced piping throughout parts of its system, including trouble-spots in Lawrence where customers’ filtration systems turned brown and black in a matter of weeks, as well as flushing out pipes.
“Between the building of new treatment and removal plants and replacing the water mains, I think we’ve done a good job,” said Varley.
“I still think the water is so dirty,” said Lawrence Mayor Martin Oliner. “We considered our own iron removal facility. I think a lot of the boilers and pools in the village have been damaged in the area.”
Oliner, who had proposed having the Village of Lawrence buy out LIAW for the responsibilities of its water system during a board meeting last year, said he hoped the village and neighboring areas would see changes soon.
“We’re working pretty closely with them to put in new piping, but its not the total issue,” said Oliner. “Its the well water that they are sending us. We’ve made some progress though and we have been able to put in new pipes, so in that regard things have been good.”
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