The cost of tap water, which has been rising year after year after year, will go up 7 percent in fiscal year 2013, which begins July 1. The city considers that an accomplishment because it had initially projected water rates would go up 9.3 percent.
Water rates have been skyrocketing every year since fiscal 2007, often at double digits. Critics say the sharp increases are effectively tax hikes, given the necessity of water, putting the lie to the mayor’s frequent boasts that he keeps taxes down.
“If the water board was a private company they would have been out of business years ago,” said civic leader Bob Friedrich, president of the Glen Oaks Village co-op. “A decade of double-digit increases and now a 7 percent hike is an outrage.”
The actual cost of water for 2013 was not included in the city’s announcement of the rate hike, which the Water Board approved May 4. But adding 7 percent to the existing price of $3.17 per 100 cubic feet, or 748 gallons, yields a rate of $3.39. As always, since 1993, the sewer rate is 59 percent higher than the water rate, so the 2012 cost of $5.04 per 100 cubic feet will go to $5.39.
The increases follow a series of hikes far above the rate of inflation each year since fiscal 2003, with one exception, according to city records. In fiscal 2002, the cost of water was $1.35 per 100 cubic feet, and it rose by 6.5 percent in 2003, 5.5 percent in 2004, 5.5 percent in 2005, 3 percent in 2006, 9.4 percent in 2007, 11.5 percent in 2008, 14.5 percent in 2009, 12.9 percent in 2010, 12.9 percent in 2011 and 7.5 percent in 2012.
“To have these types of inflationary water rate increases imposed on working class families during the worst economy in a generation is simply inexcusable,” Friedrich said. “It is the city’s version of waterboarding the public.”
He added that because the revenues are used for purposes other than providing water, the water rate is a tax, not a user fee.
The 7 percent increase that will take effect in July is 25 percent below the initial projection of 9.3 percent and is the lowest hike in seven years, Environmental Protection Commissioner Carter Strickland noted in announcing the cost.
“The lower than expected rate increase demonstrates our commitment to keeping rates low while delivering the renowned service that residents deserve,” Strickland said in a prepared statement, adding that his agency provides the public with a billion gallons a day of some of the best water in the world. “We are able to keep rates below the national average while running a system that includes 19 reservoirs, 295 miles of tunnels and aqueducts, 14,000 miles of water and sewer mains, and 22 wastewater treatment plants.”
He added that the DEP has cut its operating costs by more than 15 percent in the last three years and convinced regulators to “defer or eliminate more than $5 billion in unfunded mandates.”
The agency is coping with leaks in one of the three tunnels that deliver drinking water to the city, the Delaware Aqueduct, that causes the loss of anywhere from 10 to 35 million gallons each day. The city is doing preliminary work on it with the goal of building a bypass tunnel that will allow major repairs over a period of several years.