Water Watch NYC

Everything you need to know about water in NYC.


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Water and Sewer Service Line Protection Program: IMPORTANT UPDATE

In a post from August I gave you all the nitty gritty details on the DEP’s Water and Sewer Line insurance program – which protects homeowners in the case of a costly service line repair.

WELL, I have an important update: according to the DEP, MIXED USE buildings (that is commercial buildings with attached single or multi-family dwellings) are now also eligible for the program!!!

All eligible buildings must still be:

  • Metered with wireless meter reading device installed
  • Billed on flat-rate or metered charges
  • Current on DEP charges or payment agreement
  • Equipped with a single service line that is 2″ or less in diameter

The cost of the program is still the same for all eligible properties whether residential or mixed use – $4.49 per month for water line protection and $7.99 per month for sewer line protection.

SO, if you own a mixed use building and didn’t think you were eligible before, definitely look into enrolling in the program.  You can find all the information you need at http://www.nyc.gov/html/dep/html/service_line_protection/index.shtml and even more in my blog post from August.

 

 

 


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Tunnel No. 3: A Huge Success Waiting to Fail

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We finally have a reliable system of water distribution in New York City. But don’t forget what our “reliable” system itself relies on.

Water comes to New York City in two steps. Yesterday, the second step of our waters’ journey became much safer, more reliable, and more sustainable. The completion of Water Tunnel No. 3 was a huge success for New York. With the addition of Tunnel No. 3, the DEP can now inspect and repair Tunnel No. 1, reduce leakage, and assure that our city’s water tunnels will last long into the future.

But what about the FIRST STEP in the water journey??? Before the city’s water ever touches the now “reliable” three tunnel system, it must travel over 80 miles from the Catskill Mountains and Delaware River through the Catskill and Delaware Aqueducts. And unfortunately, this part of the journey isn’t reliable.

There are two known leaks in the Delaware Aqueduct that collectively release between 33 and 37 million gallons of water per day (out of the 500 million gallons of daily flow). These leaks not only waste a significant amount of valuable water (enough to provide water for 300,000 people per day), but also cause drinking water contamination and flooding in local homes.

The DEP has known of these leaks since the 1990’s, but very little has been done to repair them. Before anything can happen, inspections must be completed and an alternative bypass tunnel must be built so that water can continue being delivered to the city throughout the repair process.

In 2010 the DEP released a plan for a $1.2 billion, 3 mile bypass tunnel to be built around the leaks. Construction was set to begin in January of this year, but progress has been slow and it will take years before any real repairs can begin. The DEP continues to roll back the start date.

With the Delaware Aqueduct supplying 50-80% of NYC’s water, it is imperative that these repairs are carried out. Because what’s the point of a brand new city tunnel if we can’t get any water to it?


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DEP Service Line Protection Programs – Is it worth it??

IMG_1760It’s time to pay your water bill and there it  is again – that “sign up today” letter from the DEP.

“DEP is pleased to announce that we have partnered with American Water Resources (AWR) to offer a Water and Sewer Service Line Protection Program to our customers. This voluntary program is designed to protect New York City homeowners from the unexpected costs of service line repairs.”

The letter then goes on to explain that NYC homeowners are completely responsible for paying for any repairs to damaged water or sewer service lines that run from their homes to municipal services lines in the street.  The repairs are not covered by homeowner insurance policies – and they are expensive ($3,000 – $5,000 for water lines, and $10,000 – $15,000 for sewer lines.)  BUT the city is here to help.  For $4.78 a month you get protection for your water line and for $8.70 a month you get protection for you sewer line.

It sounds nice, only a small fee conveniently added to your already increasingly expensive monthly water bill.  You may not even notice it.  But really, it adds up.  In a year that tiny monthly fee will have cost you $162.  In fifteen years, it will have cost you almost $2,500 – and that’s not adding in probable rate increases. SO, is it worth it??

HERE’S WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW:

Who are you doing business with?

The Protection Plan is provided by American Water Resources (AWR).  The company has been around for a while, providing similar protection plans to homeowners in Long Island and other parts of New York State for over 10 years.

The good:

  • AWR was also hand selected by the New York City Water Board.  In 2012 the Board issued a Request for Proposals from qualified providers for service line protection programs.  “After a thorough review,” AWR was awarded a contract to administer the service line protection programs.
  • The company has an A+ rating with the Better Business Bureau.
  •  The level of service is outlined and guaranteed by the city, not the company.
  • Furthermore, the rates for the program are determined entirely by the City Water Board – not the company .  Since neither will be receiving any revenue from the program, there’s less of a chance of shady rate increases.

The bad:

  • There have been 20 official complaints filed with the BBB against the company in the past 12 months. The complaints include “problems with product/service,” “guarantee/warranty issues” and “billing/collection issues.”

Making sense of the exclusions:

Here are the exclusions that caught my attention:

  • Repairing anything not resulting from normal wear and usage.
  • Repairing anything caused by You or any third parties.
  • Repairing anything caused by natural acts or disasters, such as earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, landslides or sinkholes.

SO the program only covers line damage due to “normal wear and usage.”  This type of damage may be cause by tree roots, rust, erosion, etc.  This type of damage generally happens at the end of the life expectancy of your pipe line – about 40-70 years.

  • Restoring any gardens, shrubs, trees or structures
  • Restoring any sidewalks, curbs, driveways, roads or other paved surfaces that are not required by permit or New York City Department of Transportation rules and-

SO public roadways and sidewalks are covered under the program.  Private landscaping,  walkways and driveways are not covered, but will be backfilled and covered with an asphalt patch.

**ELIGIBILITY:  home must be residential, equipped with a wireless meter reading device, up-to-date in an existing payment agreement, and served by a meter pipe of less than 2″

Let’s talk money

Water line: So the cost for repair, if you shoot for a cheap one is going to be about $3,000.  If you pay  $4.78 a month, it will take about 52 years to have paid $3,000 to the plan.  SO, if your pipe needs repair within 52 years, you will be saving money.

Sewer line: So the cost for repair, if you shoot for a cheap one is going to be about $10,000.  If you pay  $8.70 a month, it will take about 95 years to have paid $10,000 to the plan.  SO, if your pipe needs repair within 95 years, you will be saving money.

Here’s the life expectancy of different types of water/sewer lines:

  • PVC pipe: 50-80 years.
  • Caste Iron pipe: 50-60 years
  • Copper pipe: 50-70 years
  • Plastic pipe: 50-75 years
  • Galvanized pipe: 40 years.

The final say

I’d say, DO IT.  Unless you know your pipe is relatively new, I believe this plan is worth the money and the peace of mind.  Pipes do not last forever and will at some point need to be replaced.  If you own a home in NYC, you have a lot invested in it – you want to protect it, even on into the future.   You’ve probably pictured what will happen to your house in the next 50 years.  Don’t let an expensive flood of sewage and water be a part of that picture.


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How the Leak Forgiveness Program can be Improved to Encourage Conservation

The DEP offers customers a discretionary reduction by 50% of certain abnormally high charges resulting from a hidden leak that was discovered and repaired.  To qualify the high bill must be the result of a leak the customer could not be expected to detect readily, such as from an underground pipe.  Running toilets have been specifically excluded.  We believe it works towards the goal of encouraging conservation not to exclude running toilets or other fixture leaks from the program, especially where multi-residential property is concerned.

Under MCP (flat-rate), there is no cost for being wasteful; all consumption is included in the one price, so running toilets and other leaks as well as wasteful tenants may be ignored.  Customers who choose metered billing over MCP choose to exercise control over water consumption, motivated by the goal of attaining a lower bill than on a flat-rate.  However, landlords have no control over tenants who do not pay for water and lack motivation to fix running toilets, but are liable for the charges.  And not everyone recognizes a silent, steadily running toilet.  Common leaks of the sort have a large financial impact.

Besides giving these customers a measure of relief, including running toilets as qualifying properties for the leak forgiveness program will encourage conservation by encouraging customers to keep properties on metered billing and monitor and control consumption  instead of switching to MCP for the safety of a fixed bill that does not encourage conservation.  The leak forgiveness does not reward waste.  The DEP only forgives half the high bill and the customer is responsible for the rest.


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Is Frontage Dead?

One year ago, I lamented the fact that the Water Board  had not kept its  20 year old promise to  eliminate frontage.  It  just changed the program name from Frontage to Multifamily Conservation Program (MCP) .  MCP is a “Green” name.  It even has the word Conservation in it.  At that time I acknowledged that the MCP had one advantage over frontage and that was the DEP requirement that owners repair all  leaks and   install low flow water fixtures in 2015.

Well, the Water Board’s  new rate schedule will roll back the compliance date to 2016.  Property owners can safely  stay on the MCP program without taking any conservation measures for three more years.  If past performance is any indication of things to come, the City will most likely extend the deadline for compliance each time it approaches.  Unfortunately, nothing will change until NYC is faced with a drought and then it will be too late to accomplish anything.

Long Live Frontage a.k.A. MCP.


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What’s Wrong with the Water Board’s Payment Agreement

The cost of entering into a payment agreement with the NYC Water Board to get your property out of the water bill lien sale is giving up your right to challenge the accuracy of the charges. If you have a $50,000 outstanding balance on account that is about to go into a lien sale, which will result in hefty fees, and you do not have enough cash to pay the balance, you can enter into a payment plan with the Water Board which will take the property off the lien sale, but you must agree that all of the charges are valid and waive your right to ever dispute any of them.  So if it turns out later that the Water Board misread your meter and billed you ten times what it should have, you cannot demand the Water Board correct the bill and reduce your debt—you are on the hook to pay the overcharges, interest and all.

The terms of the payment agreement charge you the same 9% interest normally charged on open balances and you must make timely payments of all new charges as well as the scheduled payments.  If you default by missing any payment, the Water Board may put the balance back on the lien sale list, but embedded overcharges still may not be disputed.  (And the Water Board does not agree that it may not revise those charges to a higher amount should it find an error in your favor.)

The Water Board is taking advantage of the customer’s lack of any bargaining power in order to coerce customers into waiving their basic economic right to dispute overcharges and obtain equitable relief.  The balance of equities, like the agreement, is one sided.  No customer bargains for these terms.  There is no loss or hardship to the Water Board without this provision which only helps the DEP to unjustified windfalls at its customers’ expense.  On the other hand, there is no real consideration or benefit given to the customer, such as reducing the amount of the debt and/or not charging interest on the debt, in return for entering into the agreement.  The customer enters the agreement because his back is against the wall.  This is coercive and imbalanced due to the government’s far greater power and the Water Board should drop this provision from the payment agreement in the interest of justice.

The lien sale is supposed to aid the City to collect honest debts.  It is not supposed to be a sword used to coerce members of the public into giving up the right to a fair accounting of their debt.  When the City Council authorized the Water Board to sell water tax liens, it failed to safeguard the public from Water Board using the lien sale to coerce the public.


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Frontage is Dead — Long Live the MCP Program

Water Conservation – The big loser in the 2012 Water & Sewer Rates Proposal.

There are two primary methods to bill for water and sewer in NYC. The first method is “Metered Billing” under which the size of one’s bill is solely based upon consumption. The more water consumed the more you pay. If you conserve water you realize an immediate saving.  The second method is Flat Rate billing in which you pay a fixed fee based upon certain characteristics of your building. Once you fee is fixed you can use as much water as you wish without incurring any additional cost. The two most prevalent Flat Rate billing methods in NYC are Frontage and the Multifamily Conservation Program (MCP). Under frontage you pay for the width of the front of your property (hence the name Frontage), height of the building, number of apartments, number of plumbing fixtures and other physical attributes, and under the MCP program you pay per apartment.

For as long as I can remember conservationist have been urging the NYC Water Board to eliminate frontage billing. Experience has shown that homeowners  will reduce their consumption if they  are forced to pay for what they use. The Water Board agreed with this in principle, and  back in the 1990s they mailed out letters to all customers stating that frontage would end in two years. Customers were urged to install meters and repair their leaks or face large bills. At the last moment the Water Board had cold feet and pushed off the deadline for another two years. The pattern kept repeating itself for over a decade. Finally in 2010 the Water Board said they were serious and Frontage would end in 2012. When members of the Water Board were asked why anyone should believe that 2012 would be different, they pointed out that Mayor Bloomberg was a lame duck and serious about conservation.

Well they are finally doing it. On March 30 the Water Board announced the end of frontage.  Bloomberg is good as his word. There is, however, one caveat: Everyone on frontage will be moved to the Multifamily Conservation Program. The rate for the MCP program will be the average of all frontage rates. In short all that has been accomplished with fourteen years of conservation lobbying is a change in the name of the flat rate billing program!

To be honest the program will require all building on the MCP program to install Water Sense Plumbing Fixtures and repair any leaks. This should result in some savings. The problem is that there is no motivation for anyone to continue repairing their leaks unless you believe the DEP when they say that they will be monitoring your consumption and throw you off the program if they detect leaks.

I never believed that the DEP would eliminate frontage. There are just too many reasons to keep billing on fixed rates. Fixed rate bills are generally paid on time by the mortgagee while metered bills are paid by the homeowners and chronically late. Furthermore: fixed rate bills are paid a year in advance. But most important is it really fair to ask property owners to pay fluctuating bills caused by their tenant’s consumption while maintaining fixed rate Rent Stabilization?

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