Essential conservation this summer | Block Island Time
The water and sewer departments adopted budgets for the upcoming fiscal year which begins July 1 at their annual financial meetings on Monday June 20. Both budgets call for an increase in revenue from user fees, primarily due to increased use throughout the year, but on the sewer side, a five percent rate increase as well.
The biggest change is to the pricing structure itself. Much like the Block Island Power Company did a few years ago, water and sewer rates will incorporate additional tiers to more accurately reflect flows throughout the season. For example, sewers previously had four different rates based on calendar quarters, with the highest rate for July, August, and September, and the lowest for January through March.
Now there will be a “winter” sewer rate that runs from November to April ($16.38 per 1,000 gallons). Rates then gradually increase through May ($22.93 per 1,000 gallons) and June ($39.31 per 1,000 gallons), peak in July and August ($55.69 per 1,000 gallons) and then gradually decrease until September and October.
On the water side, the structure is the same but the amounts are different, with the winter rate at $17.20 per 1,000 gallons; May and October are $21.50 per 1000 gallons, June and September are $27.95 per 1000 gallons and July and August are $38.70 per 1000 gallons.
Both departments face infrastructure challenges. The sewage system is aging and last fall leaks were found in the pipes. Emergency ‘slip-lining’ repairs were carried out in early June, in and around Bridgegate Square. Superintendent Dylan Chase requested an additional $16,161 in “emergency funds” from the current budget to pay for this phase of the project.
Chase also asked for money to rent a fan for the sewage plant. In the summer, three blowers are needed and one has recently failed. Chase said they found a bad circuit breaker that could have caused the fan to fail. “We need to determine the cause,” he said, adding that the fan, installed in 2007, should have lasted much longer.
“Going forward, building in some redundancy will be critical,” Chase said. “Without air, everything will fail.”
For the water company, the current problem is to be able to pump and store enough water to supply customers in July and August. (The water company replaced
key pipes from its plant to Rebecca’s statue over the winter of 2020 to 2021.) Total available gallons are split between residential, commercial
and public customers. Customers pay to reserve the right to use a certain amount, called an allowance.
Over the past nine months, larger commercial requests that exceed the total gallons available per day have been queued, while smaller ones, and those for fire suppression systems, have been approved.
The water company has generally been able to accommodate residential requests. For comparison, Lark Hotels, the owners of the “Surfside Inn”, want to completely renovate the building across from the Red Bird with hotel rooms and a 120-seat restaurant requested an allowance of 4,507 gallons per day, and one of the residential demands, this time for a one-bedroom home, is 115 gallons per day.
There were three residential water allocation applications before the commission. Two of the houses had not yet been built and Water Superintendent John Breunig hopes that by then some of the supply issues can be resolved. One house experienced a well failure and Breunig said the house was “very lightly used”.
Breunig recommended endorsing all three.
Still, Breunig was clearly worried about meeting needs this summer and how the pending new ownership of a restaurant might affect the situation, particularly in light of the more intensive use of takeaways, thus reducing the need to wash the dishes, during the pandemic. Lark Hotels also has a new building behind the Red Bird, part of the Gables II complex, though Breunig isn’t sure when it will be ready for occupancy.
“At some point the door is going to have to close,” Breunig said. “If we get more requests…we may have to wait and see.” Breunig and his team have, however, over the winter and spring worked to identify problems and tighten the system to reduce water waste. They spent a lot of time fixing leaks, fixing pump issues, and identifying bad plumbing fixtures. If a toilet is running all night in an unoccupied building, they can detect where it is with their computer system and work with the
owner to fix it. “Their problems lead to our problems,” Breunig said. “We have to find these things before the start of the season.”
Anyone using municipal water is urged to conserve as much water as possible this summer so there is enough for everyone.