Five Towners are paying a lot for dirty water


Bills are among the highest on Long Island

Posted August 29, 2019

Water discoloration adds to the frustration of paying a high water bill every month, Inwood resident Nathan Wein said. 



1. New York American Water Service Area 2 (North Shore-Sea Cliff): $1,124.52 per year

2. Shelter Island Heights: $1,090

3. New York American Water Service Area 1: $936.12

4. East Williston: $814.80

5. City of Long Beach: $765.78

6. New York American Water Service Area 2 (Merrick): $719.28

Source: Citizens Campaign for the Environment

By Matthew Ferremi

For the past two years, Inwood resident Nathan Wein said, his monthly water bill has been steadily in-creasing, despite his use of what he described as an “average amount” of water — his household of three uses roughly 23,000 gallons per month.

Wein, who grew up in the Five Towns, said that when he bought his Inwood house in 2017, he paid roughly $50 per month for water. His most recent water bill was $231. “It’s pretty shocking to me how much my bill has gone up the past two years,” said Wein, who is aiming to become more vocal as the Republican candidate for the seat in the Nassau County Legislature representing the 3rd District, which includes Inwood. “It already is expensive enough to live in this area, and now the water bill has become another big monthly expense.”

Wein’s experience is similar to those of many New York American Watercustomers on the South Shore, who have seen a sharp rise in their water bills over the past two years. The increases have been attributed in part to the implementation of “conservation” rates intended to encourage homeowners to use less water.

In 2017, the state Public Service Commission approved NYAW’s request for a four-year phase-in of the new rate structure, and last year homeowners began noticing higher bills — in some cases, double what they had paid the year before for similar water use, according to previous Herald reporting.

For customers in NYAW’s Service Area 1, which includes the Five Towns, the hikes were especially pronounced because of service costs added to their bills, which at a hearing last August were revealed to be the result of infrastructure upgrades, such as the construction of iron-removal plants and maintenance. And because NYAW is a private company, the cost of property taxes it pays on its facilities is also passed on to customers.

Residents are also frustrated about the quality of their water. In the past, NYAW has held community forums in the Five Towns that have focused on discolored water. Utility officials have said it is caused by iron buildup in water pipes. “Most of the water pipes in the Five Towns area were built before 1952,” NYAW Vice President of Operations Richard Kern said at a forum on June 26. “The older pipes tend to get iron buildup which sticks to the wall of the pipe. The buildup then gets reactive and breaks loose, causing the discoloration.”

Wein, who attended that forum, said he wanted to see more of an effort from NYAW to solve the problem. He noted that the water quality has been “sporadic” in recent months. “One week, the water will be clear, and the following week, the water will be brown,” he said. “It’s frustrating, to say the least.” The utility’s latest work in the Five Towns began in June, when it installed a new water main along Hewlett Parkway, Westervelt Place and Wheatley Street in Hewlett. The project took roughly six weeks.

Citizens Campaign for the Environment, a Farmingdale-based advocacy group, confirmed in an Aug. 14 report that NYAW customers on Long Island typically pay more than those who get water from publicly owned and operated utilities.

The report, which compared the average annual cost of water in each of Long Island’s 48 water districts, determined that customers in Service Area 1 pay the third-highest rates on Long Island, roughly $936 per year. Only residents of NYAW’s North Shore-Sea Cliff service area and the Village of Shelter Island pay more annually, $1,125 and $1,090, respectively.

Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment, attributed the higher costs to property taxes as well as NYAW’s obligation to maximize its shareholders’ profits. “People don’t understand that just because water is inexpensive doesn’t mean it’s not valuable,” Esposito said. “To get people to understand the true cost of water, the total cost needs to be in the bill.”

Esposito said her team encountered wide discrepancies in how residents are billed, with different metrics — such as cubic feet and cubic meters — used to measure water, as well as differing billing periods. Additionally, some districts include service costs in homeowners’ or business owner’s property tax bills, while others include them in their water bills.

NYAW acknowledged that the added expenses passed on to home and business owners are due to its status as a private utility, but maintained that it provides some of the best service in the area. “New York American Water is aware of the inequity of the tax system, which places a burden on New York American Water customers while all other Long Islanders are exempted,” the company’s president, Lynda DiMenna, said in a statement. “For our Service Area 1 customers, taxes make up 33 percent of their bill. We will continue to work with elected officials to right this wrong for the benefit of our customers. Furthermore, we would caution against comparing rates between public and private water systems, as there are significant differences between the two in terms of taxes, rate structures and investments.”