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Hot summer might give water customers cold cash

Water gushes out of a well pump at

Water gushes out of a well pump at 700 gallons per minute during a "well blow-off", which lets water out of pipes for water quality purposes and to prevent water hammer. (July 24, 2010) Photo Credit: Newsday/Sally Morrow

This summer's string of hot days, with few drenching rains, isn't all bad.

Increased water usage has resulted in Long Island's largest water district projecting that it will be flush with cash from ratepayers, tamping down the likelihood that water rates will go up next year for the 1.2 million customers of the Suffolk County Water Authority.

There's even talk of possible rebate checks for customers early next year at private water utility Aqua New York.

"I imagine with pumping like this, we would be refunding customers," said Aqua New York president Matt Snyder.

At Suffolk County Water Authority, revenue for June and July was projected to be $25 million, according to Jeff Szabo, the authority's chief executive.

If trends hold, gross revenue will be $6 million over projection for the period, though about $1.5 million of that will be eaten away by costs for additional water treatment, electricity and overtime.

No final decision had been made about what to do with the added revenue, which could be used to pay bonds or go toward new construction, Szabo said.

The money does make it more likely, however, that when rate decisions are made near the end of winter and into spring, customers will see no change for the fourth year in a row, he said.

"What the board is shooting for is a zero rate increase," Szabo said.

Typically, the authority pumps around 8 billion gallons of water in June, but nearly busted the 10-billion-gallon mark this year. As for July, authority officials said they may equal the 12-billion-gallon record for the month set in 2002. A normal July is about 9.5 billion gallons.

For a private water utility like Aqua New York, which serves 45,000 customers on the South Shore of Nassau County, from Merrick to Massapequa, the heavy demand for water means that the company might be sending money back to customers in the spring. State regulators cap private utility revenue and require that any money above the cap be returned to customers.

The National Weather Service is predicting that this month will be the hottest July in more than 25 years.

Peter Logan, superintendent of the Jericho Water District, which is based in Syosset and has 58,000 customers, stopped short of saying that increased usage would translate into higher revenue, and thereby increasing the likelihood that utility would forego any rate increase next year.

"In terms of revenue, I can't comment on that," Logan said.

On July 7, the utility pumped 37 million gallons, nearly breaking a daily record, Logan said.

"We're probably close to averaging 30 million gallons a day," he said. "It's higher than what we normally do in summer."

Mike Deery, a spokesman for the Town of Hempstead, said officials with the town's six water districts expect costs to increase with water demand.

"We don't see a profit component as a result of the recent increase of water usage," Deery said.

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