Like many other indicators of decreased consumption during the recession, water use has dropped in New York City over the past year. To compensate for falling revenue, city officials have proposed charging more for water use. Specifically, citing a decline in usage as well as the need to protect purity standards and maintain facilities, the Water Board has suggested a 14 percent rate price increase over the next few years. Unlike most public services, the city and state do not fund the water supply, leaving users to bear the costs. The New York City Department of Environmental Protection, in conjunction with the Water Board, oversees the upkeep of filters and tunnels, it and enforces quality standards. This generally requires a per-family fee of between $500 and $1,000 per year. But with many households struggling financially, some politicians are coming out against the rate increase. "It's going to be harder for many people," said Sarah Morgridge, a spokesperson for City Council member Robert Jackson, who represents West Harlem. "Water is a necessity. If you're a poor family in Washington Heights with 10 people sharing an apartment, you are paying the same rate, which means a greater proportion of income for them, as others." In addition, higher prices for such a basic item as water may have political implications in a municipal election year dominated by economic concerns. New York City Comptroller William Thompson, a Democrat who hopes to capitalize on frustration with the city's budget crisis as he campaigns against Mayor Michael Bloomberg, testified before the Water Board in April and called for the Department of Environmental Protection to cut its operating budget. Thompson also suggested that federal stimulus money be used to cover costs. The DEP did not return calls for comment. But such concerns may not forestall the rate hike before the City Council votes on it next month. "We have a fair system," said Marc Lavorgna, a spokesperson for Mayor Bloomberg. "You are paying for what you get. But we have to make up revenue right now because consumption has dropped. We don't have any desire to raise any rate but we need a good product." Lavorgna added that a deficit would force the Water Board to cut back on its projects, such as the construction of a third North-South tunnel that would enable the city to receive more water from upstate New York. The two other tunnels are widely seen as old and corroded. But locals still object to a water rate increase, particularly as the Metropolitan Transportation Authority prepares to raise fares and numerous city agencies, including the MTA, scale back on services. "The economy has made life difficult for everyone," said Meltem, a Teachers College student who declined to provide her last name. "It is very difficult to find jobs, especially for international students. We really do not need this extra expense." Kryssy Wright, a Columbia employee who commutes from Brooklyn to her job in Lerner Hall, said she felt city officials have made New York a much less affordable place to live, and noted the irony of raising water rates for people who have cut back on water use to save money. "I just wonder how much money these agencies need to remain operational," Wright said. "They raise rates because we are conserving, after they have told us to conserve. The consumer is always going to lose."
Columbia Spectator Staff