Scituate’s water rates will increase 10 percent this year, as part of an effort to partially resolve the issue of discolored and distasteful water.
The result will be an annual $32 increase for the average family of four, who uses 90,000 gallons of water annually, bringing average water rates from $386 a year to $418.
Town officials aren’t sure how the money will be used; however, the funding will allow the town to borrow $3.6 million, paying off the debt with the $200,000 accumulated in revenue every year.
Consequently, the choice is between a $3.6 million manganese treatment system for one of the wells, or to replace approximately 3 1/2 miles of pipe, which typically cost $1 million a mile.
That decision will be made with the Capital Planning Committee, the Advisory Board, and selectmen. A recommendation will then be voted on at Town Meeting.
The town has already replaced approximately eight miles of pipe, installed between 1900 and 1930, in the last five years, however there is still 24 miles of such pipe to be replaced.
As the pipes exist now, over 111 years of water flow has caused iron and manganese growths, called tuberculation, along the inside of the cast-iron pipe, causing brown water whenever the pipes are moved or there is an unusual surge of water.
According to town officials, replacing the pipes is the only surefire way to get rid of the problem, which has plagued residents for decades.
“We’re going to be replacing these bad pipes, which we must do, they are 111 years old. They are rusted, rotten and built up on the inside. It’s the singular cause of foul water…and the only way to fix it is to replace these pipes,” said DPW Director Albert Bangert. “It’s a national problem, though there is no federal or state money.”
Bangert initially suggested that selectmen raise water rates 35 percent, or from $386 to $520 for the average family of four, to replace eight miles of pipe and install the manganese treatment system – a $12.6 million cost.
However, selectmen were wary of raising rates so much, especially with a renovation of town hall, a middle school, and a public safety facility coming soon.
“I think we recognize that 35 percent was a very big hit, and any economic times it’s a big increase -- never mind these economic times. And there is only so much work the DPW could do each year anyway,” said selectmen Chairman Joseph Norton. “If they had gotten 35 percent, they couldn’t do all that work money would pay for. Rather than giving them 35 percent, we gave them what they could do in a year, and that’s about 10 percent.”
The rate increase, however, comes with the expectation that more requests for increases are to come, Norton said.
“It was a tough decision because brown water is a big major problem and the only way to fix it is to replace pipes. The DPW is correct in their assumption of what needs to be done, but we needed to make a decision of what we could afford to be done,” Norton said.
Although the pipe replacement will have to move more slowly than initially suggested, Bangert was pleased with the increase.
“We were saying a large increase, but they have to balance all sorts of agendas, so we’re pleased we can go forward and double the rate of pipe replacement,” Bangert said.
At this rate, it will take 14 years before all 24 miles of the 111-year-old pipes in town are replaced, Bangert said. Most likely, the town will approach residents about another increase next spring.
While selectmen have been hesitant to raise rates substantially in one go, some residents would have favored for a drastic rate increase if solved their brown water issues.
“We’ve met with groups of residents and they say, when we proposed this increase of 35 percent, or $104 increase…I’ve had residents say, 'I’ll give you the money right now.'
"The residents want to spent more on that than on wasted waters, cleaners for sinks and toilets, laundry that has to be redone,” Bangert said. “We can tackle this project a little bit at a time or make bigger improvements. But the selectmen have to balance everything, so we agree and support the decision, and we’ll continue to make recommendations to improve pipes.”