American Water COO Varley Says Hike Is About, Among Other Things, Conservation, But Impacted Long Islanders Aren't Buying It

EAST ROCKAWAY, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — Some South Shore homeowners on Long Island are outraged over spiking water bills.

The company says it’s to protect the aquifer and to help conserve water, but some customers claim it’s about the company’s bottom line, CBS2’s Jennifer McLogan reported Wednesday.

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Joyce Kane of East Rockaway said her water bill spiked for no apparent reason. It was $52 in June and $190 in July.

“How could a bill go up that high? And I called the water company and said, ‘Why is my bill so big?’ And they said, ‘You must have had a leak. Maybe you filled the pool.’ I said, ‘No, I don’t have a pool.'”

Residents on Long Island are furious over a spike in their water bills. (Photo: CBS2)

New York American Water has received so many complaints — nearly 700 — it had to call in extra staff to handle each one of them. A conservation rate intended to drive down usage during the peak summer months was approved in 2017, but customers CBS2’s McLogan spoke with claim they never knew the rate structure was changing.

“What we are seeing is people using more water. It is all irrigation driven. This conservation rate is to change behavior so people will conserve because we’re looking to protect the aquifer,” said New York American Water COO William Varley.

Conservation and aquifer protection are lofty aims this summer, but State Sen. Todd Kaminsky (D-9th) is asking who knew what when and whether enough notice was given to rate changes.

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“Clearly warning was not given. We’ve had over 400 complaints in about a week to our office. We’ve never seen anything like that on any subject for any reason, ever,” Kaminsky said.

Varley said the new rate, which increases the per-gallon charge as customers use more, was discussed in bill inserts and news releases, but he now pledges communication with customers will improve, and that a portal will be available so customers can monitor their usage, which often triples in summer.

“Yeah, I was a little nervous. I can’t afford to pay $1,900 for a water bill,” East Rockaway resident Susan Kemmet.

The Kemmet’s bill ballooned from $45 to $1,900. They were put on a payment plan, until they convinced the company of an error.

“They got a false read and they now actually owe me a credit of $18,” Kemmet said.

A public forum will be held Thursday evening with American Water executives and state regulators, as South Shore residents demand transparency.

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Since so many are planning to attend the hearing it may be moved from the auditorium to the gymnasium at East Rockaway High School, McLogan reported.