Lawmakers in Queens and Brooklyn are raising questions about the new breed of electronic meters New York City is using to measure water consumption among residents and businesses.
The city’s Department of Environmental Protection is more than halfway done connecting its 835,000 customers to the digital transmitters, which send data about water usage to the City via radio wave.
Since the project began, New York State Assemblyman David Weprin, (D) Little Neck, says he has collected “twenty or thirty” complaints from residents who suspect the new meters are causing their water bills to inflate.
“I think they are updating the meters not to help out the homeowners, per se, or to have a more accurate reading, but basically to recoup additional revenue,” Weprin said.
A number of the complaints on Weprin’s desk come from residents in Eastern Queens who noticed extremely high water bills around the same time contractors installed the new meters.
“The meter is not working properly. It’s defective,” said Louis Martin, a retired teacher who owns a home in Douglaston. Martin’s water bill for the summer months of 2010 was double what he paid in 2009.
“There is no possible explanation for that water consumption,” Martin said.
The City’s water czar disagrees.
DEP Commissioner Cas Holloway says some residents are seeing inflated water bills, not because of the new electronic meters, but because of costs associated with last summer’s record high temperatures.
“This is one of the hottest summers ever, so we know that people used more water,” Holloway said. “People use more water when it’s hot. It took more water to water people’s lawns.”
Indeed, the DEP provided detailed water records showing Martin’s water usage last summer spiked significantly in the early morning hours when his sprinkler system was on.
The City also cited water consumption data showing, aside from last summer, New Yorkers haven’t been using more water since the wireless meter installation began.
“Bills are not going up because wireless meters are being installed,” Holloway said.
Still, there is a stubborn perception the radio transmitters might somehow be more prone to errors. After a wireless transmitter was installed in Kay MacDermott’s basement, the retired assistant district attorney noticed the City began billing her for sewer use – even though her home is connected to a private septic tank.
“It was so outrageous, though. You had to laugh,” MacDermott said. After she pointed out the error, the City credited her account.
Two city council members, James Gennaro and Mark Weprin, have fielded enough complaints about the new water meters that they’re holding a town hall meting on the subject Wednesday night. The meeting, scheduled to be held at P.S. / IS 178 in Holliswood, will expressly focus on the wireless radio technology. Representatives from the DEP are expected to answer questions at the town hall, which will last from 6 to 9 pm. on Wednesday. The school is located at 189-10 Radnor Road in Holliswood.
Over the last four years, city water rates have jumped by more than 50 percent and the DEP is forecasting another significant increase in water prices this year. Officials suggested residents who are complaining about the new meters might be erroneously blaming the new technology, when the real culprit behind inflated bills is higher water rates.