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American Water Customers facing rate increases

New York American Water headquarters in Merrick, as

New York American Water headquarters in Merrick, as seen on July 3, 2018. On April 1, water customers in Nassau County face rate increases of up to 7.95 percent, a year after the company endured a torrent of high-bill complaints and state and federal investigations. Credit: Danielle Silverman

New York American Water customers in Nassau County face rate increases of up to 7.95 percent next month, a year after the company endured a torrent of high-bill complaints and state and federal investigations.

On April 1, customers who use up to 8,000 gallons of water will see bills increase between $1.32 and $4.47, the company said in a statement that accompanies a series of new initiatives aimed at helping users reduce water consumption.

The increase is tied to a state-approved conservation rate that rises with customer usage. Those who use more than 8,000 gallons will see progressively higher bills.

For residents in the Lynbrook service area, for example, rates will increase 7.95 percent. In Merrick, they will rise 7.52 percent and in the North Shore district around Sea Cliff, 1.82 percent, according to a public notice published in Newsday. 

Sea Cliff customers at the North Shore Concerned Citizens activist group, which has been working to break away from American Water, are perhaps a week away from issuing a request for proposals for a feasibility study through the Sea Cliff Village task force to study options, said Joe Lopes, a member of the group. The group opposes the latest rate increase, which is part of a four-year plan that increases rates each year. 

Lloyd Nadel, a member of the Concerned Citizens, said the group awaits the outcome of a lawsuit filed by the Village of Sea Cliff challenging the 2017 rate increase. "We believe the lawsuit will result in a rollback of everything," starting with the 2017 rate hike, said Nadel, of Glen Head. "They should roll back the whole rate case. It's based on false figures given to the PSC." 

New York American Water in 2018 faced thousands of angry customers and state and a federal regulators after acknowledging irregularities in its 2017 rate case, and the implementation of the conservation rate led to bills increasing exponentially last spring.

The company, under state pressure, including intervention by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, suspended the higher rate for 2018 for some service areas as it prepared a series of measures aimed at alerting customers to increases and helping them reduce usage.

"We learned from last year's rate change that our company must be more proactive about educating our customers about new rates and the importance of conservation," New York American Water president Lynda DiMenna said in a statement. 

The rate increase accompanies a series of measures aimed at helping customers cut water use through an H2O Control Conservation program. It includes a free outdoor water-saving how-to kit, an indoor water-saving kit, a water-use calculator and home assessments of irrigation uses. Customers can also buy a Rachio 3 Smart Irrigation controller for a discounted $99, for those with qualifying irrigation systems, American Water said. 

Rates for Lynbrook-area customers could have been even higher next month, but the state Public Service Commission took “emergency” action in late February and approved postponement of another surcharge that had been scheduled to take effect also on April 1. The “levelization” surcharge, which will bring $4.5 million in new revenue for the company, will take effect in April 2020, according to a PSC filing last month approving the request. In approving it, the PSC said enacting the charge this year “could result in customer confusion.”

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