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Why is Water So Expensive ?

The cost of household water continues to rise each year.

Have you looked at your water bill lately? It is staggering to think that the average water bill for a household of four can be as much as $3,000 per year. Of course, that is a rough estimate. This may not consider the occasional watering of your lawn, or even washing the two vehicles with some regularity. The interesting part is that the water and sewer rates keep rising every year.

So, why are we paying so much for water?

I'll do my best to explain.

Let's go back a few years. Better yet, let's go back a lot of years. If you are under 40 years old, this will make no sense to you. You may want to skip this blog, unless your paying the water bill.

For about 100 years, the City of Boston, and many of the surrounding cities were supplied water by the Metropolitan District Water Commission (MDC). The Commission was established in 1895 by the Massachusetts State Legislature to better provide and expand a clean water supply to the Boston metropolitan area.

During the next century, it was expanded, modified and only 20 years ago significantly restructured into a shadow of what was once a huge enterprise.

Many new federal government regulations in concert with public pressure purged the MDC into a mandatory retrofitting. The combination of bad management decisions complicated by the financial woes in the 1990 state level budget nearly decimated the MDC over a short period of time.

Until 1991, the MDC was so large it even boasted a massive police department with jurisdiction of hundreds of miles of state roadways, and many public facilities. At the time it was one of the state's highest profile authorities.

Today, this police agency, including much of its real estate holdings, does not exist. A massive consolidation plan dissolved three independent policing agencies, the MDC, Registry, and Capitol police to be merged under the Massachusetts State Police Division.

Now, only a memory of the old MDC exists. The swimming pools, ice skating rinks and natural preserves remain in existence under the control of the newly created Division of Conservation and Recreation. 

But, let's move on. That's water under the bridge, or, over the dam. Whatever. All joking aside, change was needed.

How did this happen? 

Back in the day around the late 70s the MDC water commission never really mastered a good management style over the state water/sewer infrastructure system. On the surface the MDC did a decent job of keeping the clean water flowing, and sewers from clogging up, at more than reasonable rates to the public.

Whose to complain? Back then, many cities charged a flat water fee of $12 a month. If a toilet was running constantly, no problem. It was less expensive to pay for the water than the plumber. But, the sewer bill portion never existed. We just dumped it into the Charles River, or the Boston harbor.

However, we all made a serious miscalculation. We never planned for the future, and that's the rub.

Under former Gov. Mike Dukakis' administration, we fought and ignored the federal mandates to rebuild the infrastructure losing billions of dollars in subsidies. After years of failed legal maneuvering, we are paying the fiddler to the tune of more than 6 billion dollars over the next 40 years. Massachusetts lost the battle with the Feds along with the 90 percent of funding. This one bad decision by our leadership cost us billions and billions in federal subsidies.

The entire system was unable to expand with the new growth into the suburbs. In Boston, high-rise buildings kept growing out of the ground like weeds. Every few days water leaks occurred with higher and higher costs in losses. The Charles River smelt awful. When it rained badly some of the inner city roads flooded with a stench that gave you a stomach ache. 

Massachusetts officials finally were forced to do something. So, in 1984 the state legislature enacted the creation of the Massachusetts Water Resource Authority, otherwise known as the MWRA

It was just in time too. On the federal level, under rising pressure the U.S. Congress kept expanding the existing 1948 Federal Water Pollution Control Act. Many amendments were added in 1972,  and later in 1976, with the new naming of the law, as the "Clean Water Act." It wouldn't be long before our dirty little secret about the Boston harbor would become the focus of the nation in the 1988 presidential election.

So, as always we are paying for our past mistakes. For within our current water/sewer rates is the cost of having neglected our public duty to our natural resources, and to ourselves. We occasionally forget that sometimes doing the right thing dosen't have to cost a lot. It may be just about having the will to do it and keeping an open mind.

So, what can we do now? 

We can better manage all of our resources starting with everyday conservation of our water supply. A simple modification in our daily behavior, or by employing a few new devices, can shave hundreds of dollars off your annual water bill every year.   

Let's teach our children what we have learnt over the years.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Frank Pignone March 14, 2014 at 06:55 PM
Hi Paul : I do see that this particular 'blog' begain in the year 2011.. and I wish I could have caught it then. As you may know, I worked on the 'configuration' of the steep and 'sudden' Water and Sewer Rates many years ago and tried to elucidate some 'brutal' and 'necessary' facts to the younger and active older citizens of the town.. I just wanted to interject that I am going to 'open this up' once again.... piece by piece as fine 'surgery'.. as it is too important to pass by. Soon , the first piece I shall write in a day or two is the 'retail' rate vs. the 'wholesale rate'. and how this town''s voters and property tax payers got 'sucked in' to one of the most shady 'overrides' in the history of our Commonwealth....
Paul John Maisano March 14, 2014 at 07:15 PM
Hi Frank, nice to hear from you. I can't wait for you to give us information and your opinions. Hows your wonderful bride? Please stat in touch, and check out my recent blog post called, 'Understanding a Political Traffic Jam' the discussion ids ongoing and join in the debate!!! Thanks Paul
Frank Pignone March 14, 2014 at 07:27 PM
I have seen your outstanding 'efforts' the other evening.. Remind 'Gus' Newenhouse ( sic).. that he was 'greatly in favor' of placing 'an OVERLAY.. across the whole 'Bike Path' Land whose story rivals those of the James Gang of the old West.. One night I called the old Town Administrator, 'Bill Sequino' about the 7 or 8 'leases' he allegedly 'signed' back then........I won't tell you his response during our one hour conversation...but when we were about to 'finish' what I told him and he told me.. we both did not hear much for we both fainted....!! $ 1.00 a year for ten years.. Remember, there is supposed to be 'knowledge' it 'is' Town Land'... and it is supposed to be 'always 'insured' for Liability....and we both weren't sure if 'any one' of them ever submitted a policy indeminifying the Town as Atty. Bill Soloman should have been policing....For many years after the '10' year leases were 'up'...We don't know if 'any' money was ever paid as some even covered up the damn land with hot top..!! IT IS 'NOT' THEIR DAMN LAND !!.. Further... there is a question, if 'Bill Sequino' even signed that 'many leases'.. and if all those 'signatures'.. were even 'his'.....!! He recalls only 'Three'.. 'Three'... I want you to do something.. Come into Stoneham on Rt. 93... and get ready to come off at Montvale Avenue.. where the big 'ad' sign is near or on The Business Property there.. and 'look at the property.. You'd swear you were in...........'Detroit'...What a Goddamn Mess..!!! Do we have a Board of Health or Building Inspector in this Town or are they only for 'resident' who are 1/2 inch over or too close to the lot line, to build a Bird House.....?....
Frank Pignone April 01, 2014 at 04:05 PM
Hello Paul: As I promised; I want to 'clarify' a lot of points I 'know' aren't in the heads of the Rate Payers of the Stoneham Water and Sewer Bills, and I want to do it.. 'simply' in language people can 'easily' understand. 1.- The Water and Sewer 'Bill' is just that... 'Two Bills' broken up and billed as 'One' Bill... 2.-.. The 'Usage Factor on the 'Bill' is 100 Cubic Feet or 748 Gallons of Water. 3.- The 'Basic' way your bill is 'Figured' is any water used 'inside' the home or business gets 'billed' both for the Water and Sewer 'combined Rate.......... 4.- We all use Water 'Outside ' the home and we are Allowed to get billed on the 'Portion' as 'Only Water'... BUT...**** You have to obtain from the Public Works an OUTSIDE USAGE METER... 5.- When, your meter is 'Read'.. The DPW will obtain 'Two Readings.. One shall show and be billed for 'all the water usage as Water and Sewer 'Combine'.. 6.- A 'reading' shall then be done on the 'Outside' 'Water' Meter.. and that amount shall be 'deducted from the 'overall usage and you shall be billed for the 'Outside Usage. 7- On your bills you shall notice the 'two rates'... 8. - In the 'next section' ( I want to do this all in Sections Paul. It shall be clearer that way.. ), I want to explain that 'our water and sewer' bill is for TWO DIFFERENT.. 'Entities.. One of these is the 'Bill from the MWRA.. and the Other is a Rate per 100 cubic feet from your Town of Stoneham Government.........
Paul John Maisano April 01, 2014 at 05:55 PM
Frank, Thanks for the overview with the water bill format, very well placed to understand. I am intending to take a serious look at a few of my water bills from various towns to understand the norm. Please give me a week or so to do the research...I am trying to meet the April 15th, tax deadline right now among other work related chores. Thanks Paul
Frank Pignone April 02, 2014 at 11:55 AM
I'm still finishing up this series Paul: And when or by the time I explain this 'rate setting' , you and others shall 'understand' why cities and towns are so different as they bill 'differently'.. and it is 'now' time to display how the cities and towns have 'definitely' obtained 'extra money', as 'silent' overrrides' to the tunes of millions by 'loopholes' in the MWRA Billing systems...'Every community'..received the same 'Cost of water per 748 gallons... 'SAME'...The 'sewer' Bill varies greatly for the 'waste' going back deals with 'sensors' of 'what is going back'...and the 'thickness of strength of it.. BUT THE 'MAJOR' POINT TO 'US CITIZENS.. 'is'.. 'how the cities and towns have 'taken' , 'white collar workers and supervisors, plus their pensions and benefits, car allowance, and more... plus DPW workers and 'their benefits'..'OFF THE PROPERTY TAXES.. and placed ALL THOSE... onto the Water and Sewer'...... This transfer ( s).. 'should have 'reduced' the Property Taxes !! ... But what the Towns and Cities.. 'did' was 'Fill the holes'... with 'more expenses and payroll.. I CALL IT.......... AN ILLEGAL...........'OVERRIDE..'..and no where in the MWRA Authority 'Rules'. or the MGL.SAYS ... 'You can do that.. Plus.. THERE HAS BEEN .....'no' studies as to 'how many hours.. 'any ' of these costs were allocated... It's been done by 'confused' and 'care less' Selectmen..just 'going along. 'hum drum'.. without even knowing or 'care to'.. The 'night' I showed up and told them I believe the ZOO and the MDC or MWRA 'properties.. were 'using' our sewer.. and we were paying for it...They 'smirked'.....and if you know me.. and I'm in 'public'... with a figure or 'words'............my advice is.............' ( Don't Smirk )........
Frank Pignone April 09, 2014 at 11:08 PM
Paul : I see in the paper, the townspeople are reading our 'water' discussions here and are now asking about the 'outside water meters. I did not realize they 'discontinued' these 2 or 3 years ago.. My God, I got a 'rash' !!!!!! Especially, when I went to the Selectmen and DPW ( as well as the District Attorney) that the State was 'stealing' our Sewer money..Of course it's 'Larceny'.. It's their system for God's sake.. $ 300,000 ...! Have they paid it back yet.. ? It took me four years of calculations, for I knew'something is wrong'.. as our bills were 'too high' in comparison to other cities and Towns... Now Point to 'learn and understand: Again, We must 'study' and fight' that the town took money 'from the property taxes' and put 2 to 3 million dollars onto the Water and Sewer Bills...That was 'supposed to reduce' the property tax amount. They were 'not' supposed to 'fill the hole' with more government expenses !!!! Jesus !.....That was awful....NO One has 'fought this concept yet'..............'Yet'.......... Some items : 1.- Kraft Foods in Woburn - Has a 'contract' with the Town of Stoneham to supply their Water needs for 25 years. They are 'not' in our Sewer System and do not pay as we do. a 'combined Water and Sewer Bill... 2.- They only pay..........25% more than the 'million gallon rate' which the MWRA sends the Town of Stoneham ! 3.- They get to 'Read their own meter' !.. They also get to 'Test' their own meter !.... 4.- We 'service' the pipes leading up to their property and 'we' pay for it.. They pay for pipes on their property. 5.- ********** Here is 'where this huge usage can 'bury us'.......*** Our Bill from the MWRA is 'BASED ON' 'Previous Years Usage....So..........**** IF Kraft Foods used 100 million Gallons 'last year'.... ----- They 'PAY THAT BILL... THE 'FOLLOWING YEAR BY their 'current usage' !! 6.- If 'this year' they ONLY USE 50 million Gallons.. It creates a 'Deficit' of the Townspeople.. !! There 'never was' in that Contract... a 'Guaranteed' phrase of a 'minimum' amount of use....We can blame 'TOWN COUNSEL and TOWN ADMINISTRATOR.. on this 'BLUNDER' !! 7.- KRAFT FOODS is a 'Major Player' in your Water and Sewer Bills......Believe it.. 8. If a Major Corporation is paying for ONLY WATER.. Why the Hell, cannot we Taxpayers ?:........... 9.- I'll end this week with this , not to overburden these kind people Paul...- : I need you to keep in mind what I wrote about an 'Illegal Override'...... I need you to keep in mind that putting 'white collar' administrators on the Water and Sewer bills is 'Contrived' by a 'desperate' government.'...and 'no study can be found as to these allocations.. NOT EVEN ON THE BLUE COLLAR workers on the DPW.. or THE TRUCKS, THE GASOLINE, INSURANCE, AND REPAIRS.. !! It has all been 'arbitrary'... and 'Manipulated'..to 'make room' on the Property Tax... I have called the MWRA to get the appropriate websites to obtain the last 10 year 'flows'.. and 'billings'...I also am calling for the DPW 'rate configurations' and 'flows' used... as well as ............................????????????? WHAT FIGURE.. are they using for 'UNACCOUNTED FOR......WATER ?......That figure.. shall tell us a lot Paul.... That would be a 'normal' 'non metered use.. like Water breaks, Fires, things as that.. We 'need' these figures........and then.....We shall see..... Thank You Paul. I'll be back here in a few days with some 'figures'..and 'situations'.... I 'Truly' did not realize that 'outside meters' have been 'discontinued'.. I believe the DPW Director has despised these for a long time.It's time we 'Get his mind ' off of it.. once and for all........'Enough'...

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