Drought could drive up water rates
No increase included in 2017 budget, but loss of revenue might force change
The city Water Department’s proposed budget for 2017 keep users’ rates at their current levels, but the head of the department worries ongoing drought conditions that have depleted the city’s main reservoir could force a rate hike during the year.
The Kingston Board of Water Commissioners is to vote on the budget Dec. 14, and city Water Superintendent Judith Hansen said members “are concerned that the loss of revenue and an increase in expenses could occur as a result of the ongoing drought.”
Hansen said revenue from Kingston’s sale of water to the
neighboring town of Ulster has decreased due to Ulster agreeing to draw less from the city’s main reservoir, Cooper Lake in the town of Woodstock, during the current drought period.
“The town of Ulster has cut their consumption by 200,000 gallons per day,” Hansen said. “This helps to extend the supply available, but is a loss of revenue of about $18,000 per month.”
And a persistent drought could force the city to spend money for water from a different source.
“If it becomes necessary to get water from the Ashokan [Reservoir], there are engineering, permitting and equipment costs, as well as a fee for the water,” she said. “... The board will assess the situation in early 2017 but has not ruled out the possibility of a midyear [rate] increase to accommodate drought-related costs.”
The Ashokan Reservoir is owned and operated by the New York City Department of Environmental Protection. The Ashokan’s water level also has dropped sharply in recent months, but New York City so far has not announced any drought-related restrictions.
Kingston declared a “drought alert” in mid-October, when Cooper Lake dropped to 75 percent of its capacity. The alert was upgraded to a “drought warning” in mid-November, when the reservoir fell to 65 percent of capacity, and Hansen said it since has fallen to 61 percent.
The warning, like the alert, calls for voluntary water conservation, but it asks for a specific level of cutback, 15 percent, by
Cooper Lake, which holds 1.2 billion gallons of water when full, typically is at 85 percent of capacity at this time of year. If the water level drops to 50 percent, Kingston will declare a “drought emergency” and make conservation become mandatory for all users.
Kingston has declared only two drought emergencies in the last 36 years — one in 1980, the other in 2012.
Hansen said she submitted her proposed 2017 budget to the Kingston Board of Water Commissioners in October and made minor changes in early November.
“Minor changes were proposed and included, but the resultant budget still does not include a rate increase,” she said. “The board is confident that this is a sound spending plan for the coming year.”
The proposed 2017 budget stands at $4,576,000, the same total as this year.
The budget includes a 1.5 percent increase in employee pay, but Hansen said that amount is being offset by a transfer of funds from the department’s capital improvement fund to its general fund. Also, the department plans to shift only $50,000 into an emergency retirement fund in 2017.
The 2017 budget also calls for:
• $991,300 for employee benefits, up from $971,3000 in 2016.
• $606,900 in administrative costs (i.e. engineering, utility, insurance, legal), up from $588,300.
• $891,500 to operate the city’s water filtration plant in Woodstock, up from $835,500.
The average Kingston Water Department customer currently pays $95.07 per quarter.
Judith Hansen, superintendent of the Kingston Water Department, stands on the dam at the city’s Cooper Lake reservoir in the town of Woodstock in June 2015.