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LI drought conditions mean windfall to Suffolk Water Authority

Long Island may be facing an ongoing moderate drought according to federal officials, but it generated $9.8 million in extra revenue in the past fiscal year for the Suffolk Water Authority, according to a year-end audit.

Revenue from heavy water use was the largest part of the $12.3 million in unanticipated excess cash the authority generated from its $176.3 million budget for the fiscal year ending May 31.

The agency's water revenue can swing dramatically from year to year because of varying levels of rainfall, hot temperatures and other weather events like blizzards, which can damage mains. Authority officials say any excess cash is used to pay off existing debt and fund part of its capital program in cash.

Authority officials say they conservatively budget for the average customer to use 160,000 gallons annually, but in the past fiscal year, customers averaged more than 172,000 gallons. In all, the authority pumped 65.6 billion gallons, 4.6 billion gallons more than budgeted. However, it is still below the authority's record in 2010, when it pumped 73 billion gallons of water to customers.

The extra revenue came even though the authority had added only 735 customers in the past year -- just a .2 percent gain -- making the number of accounts 381,113, serving 1.2 million residents. However, the authority last year increased rates by 1.2 percent. Water rates for the current fiscal year increased 4.2 percent, making the current average customer bill $365 annually.

Despite the drought designation, Jeff Szabo, Suffolk Water's chief executive, said the authority has adequate supplies from the region's underground aquifer. But the agency still pursues new properties on which to drill wells, particularly on the North and South forks, to maintain adequate supplies -- especially during peak demand in summer months, when 70-75 percent of water is consumed.

While water revenue was up, authority officials also said they faced higher than expected expenses in certain areas, including $600,000 more than budgeted in higher utility bills from PSEG Long Island. They also experienced $2 million in unexpected expenses from storm damage in last winter's blizzards, which also increased overtime to $1.9 million, $600,000 over budget.


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