ROTTERDAM, N.Y. (NEWS10) — Town board members say that if Rotterdam residents don’t want water meters, they shouldn’t have to get them, but that may be easier said than done. As NEWS10 has reported, word about a long-standing back and forth with the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has come out of the woodwork throughout March, and neighbors are furious about it.
“People are incensed, triggered, panicked, and frustrated at the thought of water meters in Rotterdam,” said Board Member Joe Mastroianni.
“I think it’s very well known throughout the town that the people here don’t want water meters and never have, and if that’s what they want, it’s what we want too,” said Supervisor Mollie Collins.
NEWS10 reported that when Rotterdam renewed its water permit in 2017, it came with the condition that all customers had to be metered. In fact, a DEC representative says in a statement Friday that the metering regulation passed in April 2013. For the last nine years, the state has slowly been phasing towns and cities in.
DEC never pressured them to get a move on, as there was no deadline date. The DEC permit application site shows that in April 2019, Rotterdam applied to sell water to Guilderland and increase its water withdrawal limit from 10 million gallons a day to 12 million, with the additional two million going to Guilderland.
A letter from the DEC to Supervisor Collins explained that when the agency checked in on Rotterdam around that time, they discovered that the town had not done any of the work they’d committed to in a water conservation plan submitted along with a 2017 permit renewal request. Regulators then took a renewed interest in metering the town.
Collins said she’s looking for a way to keep the mandate at bay. “Through education, conservation, and the leak detection program, I think that we will have a better handle on this,” she said.
The DEC said the main purpose of the metering initiative is to limit water losses. Friday’s statement reads in part:
These programs and customer meters have proven to be effective as DEC routinely sees water suppliers discovering large leaks or other losses in their system. Stopping or reducing these losses will not only result in increased water conservation but also can result in energy savings for the supplier.
Rotterdam hopes that if they can offer up their own alternative, there may be no need for residential customer meters. “One of the things that we have going for us in Rotterdam is that the majority of us are still on septic systems, and if you were raised that way, you know you don’t leave the water running continually while you’re doing the dishes or this or that, because it’s saved in your septic system,” Collins said. “If we can present a strong public education initiative on conservation and our own leak detection program, that might help us to talk to the DEC and stop [metering] before it even starts.”
“We have wooden pipes underneath the industrial park. Some suspect we’re leaking multiple millions of gallons of water underneath the industrial park. We may have leaks in other parts of town that we need to do a leak detection study for,” Mastroianni said. “We intend to present the residents with the options in front of us, and we want to make decisions that are going to cost the town and the residents the least amount of money over the long haul.”
Although the sale to Guilderland may have renewed DEC’s push for a plan, it’s a bell that can’t be unrung. Collins said the contract expires in the next two years, but they can’t choose whether to renew it without considerable thought.
“I was very outspoken against that plan in 2019, and one part that never made sense to me is that the rate actually gets cheaper the more they draw from us. But if their water supply is dependent on us right now, you can’t just cut off a municipality’s water supply,” Collins conceded. “You have fire protection and just basic public health that you have to be worried about
“It was a bad deal with Guilderland. We are selling very clean water from a great source in the Capital Region for less than market value. That deal was not the best deal for this town and water meters are a contentious topic in the town. If in that agreement, we’ve committed ourselves to something the town does not want, then we need to begin the conversation about what our alternatives are,” Mastroianni said. “Guilderland has actually approached us and wants to double the amount that they’re getting from Rotterdam, but we wouldn’t be able to do that with the current infrastructure that we have.”
For now, they’re waiting to see if DEC will accept another option or if meters are inevitable. While these board members stand firmly against the initiative, they do admit that some in the town could stand to save some money down the road. “Currently, everybody pays the same exact rate, whether you’re in a one-bedroom condo or in a four-bathroom house with a swimming pool that leaks,” Mastroianni explained. “There are some misconceptions and confusion that complicates the issue.”
“We have no rates as to how many gallons of water every resident would get to begin with,” Collins says. “What would be the fee if you went over that? With so many unknowns, I can’t speak to what possible savings there may or may not be.”