Drought could drive up wa­ter rates

No in­crease in­cluded in 2017 bud­get, but loss of rev­enue might force change

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - FRONT PAGE - By Paul Kirby pkirby@free­manon­line.com paulat­free­man on Twit­ter

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

com­mer­cial users.

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.

TA­NIA BARRICKLO — DAILY FREE­MAN FILE

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.

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