HUDSON VALLEY—Scenic Hudson and Riverkeeper say the New York State Public Service Commission (PSC) made the right decision to reject a Joint Proposal that would have saddled Rockland County ratepayers with an almost $90-million charge for the costs of an abandoned desalination plant while implementing a poorly designed conservation plan for the county’s water system, run by Suez Water New York, Inc. (Suez). The PSC’s decision to reject the proposal, put forth by Suez and PSC trial staff, was largely based on overwhelming opposition by most of the intervenors in the rate case, including the county and its Water Resources Management Task Force, all five towns in the county, a number of its villages, Scenic Hudson, Riverkeeper and the Rockland Water Coalition. Suez has until January 27 to unconditionally accept a modified Joint Proposal. If it doesn’t, temporary rates go into effect.
Riverkeeper and Scenic Hudson, together with the Rockland Water Coalition, local advocacy groups, public officials and thousands of local citizens, have worked for years to persuade the PSC to require Suez to run a more sustainable water system. Under the PSC’s December 2015 decision to halt the unnecessary, costly and environmentally damaging desalination plant, Suez was directed to work with the Water Resources Management Task Force and develop more sustainable ways to manage Rockland County’s water supply. However, Suez withdrew from the task force, and the so-called water conservation plan ultimately put forth by Suez and PSC staff in the Joint Proposal failed to include meaningful savings targets or incentives. Scenic Hudson and Riverkeeper, along with their allies, argued that Suez should not make a profit on the money it spent on the failed desalination plant, and that the system could be made much more efficient by using cutting-edge water conservation programming and leak detection; a better-designed, conservation-oriented rate structure; more effective outreach to all of its diverse customers; and more substantive aid to low-income ratepayers.
The PSC’s decision makes positive modifications to the Joint Proposal by amending the treatment of the desalination plant costs with a reduced return to be earned by Suez. It also requires additional measures by the company to address water-quality concerns, increasing incentives for water conservation and reducing leaks, and requiring analysis of a direct install program for more efficient fixtures for low income customers, among other changes.
Scenic Hudson Director of Environmental Advocacy Hayley Carlock said, “We are glad to see that the PSC rejected the Joint Proposal as against the public interest, and instead put forth a modified plan that will create greater incentives for water conservation and leak management. The decision of the PSC shows that they heard and considered the concerns of the affected community. The future is about smart and efficient management of our region’s water resources. We continue to hope that Suez will come back to work with the Rockland County Task Force on Water Resources Management to maximize water conservation in the interest of its customers and the environment.”
Riverkeeper President Paul Gallay said, “Riverkeeper is pleased to see that the PSC sought to modify the Joint Proposal and that it strengthens incentives for water conservation in Rockland County. This can potentially double the savings of water resources from the baseline of 1 million gallons per day. With rising temperatures and growing populations, we need to make the most of our water resources and this order is a step in the right direction toward that important goal. However, we do not feel that ratepayers should be stuck with so much of the bill for Suez’s failed desalination proposal.”
Peggy Kurtz of the Rockland Water Coalition said, “We recognize the Public Service Commission for taking the unprecedented action to modify the Joint Proposal. After nine years of striving by the community for the strongest conservation plan possible, the modified program is a step forward but should be stronger to achieve the gains that are needed, and we are extremely disappointed that the PSC has allowed recovery of the full $54 million in desalination costs plus profit, all charged to the community. In order to do its part as our water utility, Suez has the responsibility to maximize water conservation, reduce lost water and assure water quality. For its part, the Rockland Water Task Force has secured funding and worked to achieve adoption of WaterSense plumbing standards at the state level. We re-emphasize the PCS’s request that Suez repair its relations with the community, and we stand ready to work together in our continuing effort to develop the water conservation and efficiency program needed in Rockland County.”