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Dry summer means big water bills for some

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The lack of rain this summer has left some north country residents high and dry with big water bills.

Keeping lawns and gardens hydrated, cars washed and backyard pools filled caused a spike in some bills.

Municipalities have different ways of billing for water use, with some charging a flat fee for each household and others having separate meters for each household and business.

In the village of Canton, where separate meters are used, summer water consumption increased by almost 2 million gallons compared to a year ago.

Records show that third-quarter water use increased from 62,372,000 gallons in 2011 to 64,243,400 this year. The quarter covers June 15 to Sept. 15.

Besides the lack of rainfall, a water and sewer rate hike took effect July 1 in the village of Canton, providing a second reason for higher bills.

Water rates increased 3 percent, from $5.10 per 1,000 gallons to $5.25, while sewer rates increased from $6.41 to $6.60 per 1,000 gallons.

Canton residents who are concerned their water bills are excessively high have the chance to get their bill lowered by filing a complaint with the village clerk’s office.

Grace E. Vesper, Canton’s deputy village clerk, said in the majority of cases, the resident has a leaky toilet that needs to be fixed.

“They just call me and we send someone out to check for leaks,” Mrs. Vesper said. “About 90 percent of the time, they find a leak.”

Each billing period, about 15 to 20 residents call the clerk’s office with concerns about their bill.

Occasionally, the tool used to read the water meter records an inaccurate figure. Even if the excess water use was caused by a leak, residents can file paperwork to have their bill recalculated.

In Canton, residents are allowed a reduction once every five years, Mrs. Vesper said.

Residents in the village of Potsdam pay $6.21 per 1,000 gallons for water, $6.20 for sewer. Lori S. Queor, Potsdam’s clerk and treasurer, said Friday that statistics comparing water use from year to year were unavailable.

She said there has not been an unusual number of complaints about high water bills this year. Most of the complaints the village does receive are due to a leaking toilet. The only recourse for those who feel their bills are too high is to write the mayor and the village board.

The village of Gouverneur has a complicated system that bills most users a flat unit fee based on classifications, not on the actual amount of water used. A commercial car wash, for example, would have more user units than a single-family house.

The base rate for combined water and sewer service for a single family house is $151 per quarter. That amount would double for a two-family house. There are about 300 meters in use in Gouverneur’s village limits, mostly at apartment complexes and businesses. All new construction is required to have meters.

There have been no complaints about high bills, probably because most residents who might have used more water than usual on lawns and gardens pay a unit fee which remained constant, Gouverneur village Clerk Jennifer R. Link said.

The city of Ogdensburg has most people on a flat fee that’s billed quarterly with their city taxes. Roughly 100 to 150 customers are on meters, mostly commercial, industrial and retail. The rate is $3 per 1,000 gallons.

In the town of Madrid, the rain-challenged summer resulted in a spike in water consumption. According to Madrid town Clerk Judy A. Hargrave, water consumption for June, July and August totaled 4,195,885 metered gallons. One year ago during the same three months, the total was 3,893,179 gallons.

Accordingly, when the latest quarterly water bills were mailed out to town residents last month, the increased consumption was reflected in their bottom lines.

But then, Mrs. Hargrave pointed out, it usually is. Still, the calls came.

“Traditionally, we always get calls after the summer,” she said, adding that residents have lawns to water and cars to wash.

Madrid’s per 1,000 gallons charge for its water goes down as consumption rises. The rates are: up to 2,000 gallons, $13.29; 2,001 to 7,000 gallons, $3.55; 7,001 to 12,000 gallons, $1.78; 12,001 to 22,000 gallons, 89 cents, and 22,001 gallons and up, 64 cents.

Mrs. Hargrave said complaints about high water bills result in checking for leaks and meter malfunctions.

In the village of Heuvelton, water costs residents and businesses $65 each quarter. “It doesn’t fluctuate,” said Heuvelton village Clerk Anna M. Hurst.

Shawn Rowe, lead operator for Heuvelton’s waste water treatment plant, said the village typically averages 90,000 to 100,000 gallons per day, which increased to 150,000 to 160,000 per day this summer.

Mr. Rowe believes watering lawns was the biggest factor contributing to the rise in water usage, even though the village had a voluntary water conservation plan in effect throughout the summer months.

Johnson Newspapers reporters Brian Kidwell and Sean Ewart, and Times staff writers Martha Ellen, Jacob Tierney and Christopher Robbins contributed to this report.

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