Providence Water Supply Board Seeks Rate Hike

Jun 5, 2013

The Providence Water Supply Board is looking to raise its rates. There’s a public hearing at the state Public Utility Commission Wednesday on a proposal to raise residential rates by 24 percent and wholesale rates by 32 percent. Because 60 percent of the state gets its water from Providence, the rate hike will be felt across much of Rhode Island. Joining morning host Chuck Hinman in the studio with more is Rhode Island Public Radio news director Catherine Welch.

CHUCK: Catherine, this sounds like more than a rate hike for people who live in Providence. Who besides Providence residents buy water for the city?

CATHERINE: Here’s how it works, the Providence Water Supply Board owns the Scituate reservoir and it sells some of its water to what it calls “wholesale customers” such as the Kent County Water Authority, the Bristol County Water Authority and City of East Providence. Those water authorities have their own pipes and in turn sell Providence’s water to their residents.

The Providence Water Supply Board is seeking its first rate increase in four years.

CHUCK: So it sounds like a rate hike coming from the Providence Water Board would trickle down to customers in places like Bristol, West Warwick and North Kingstown.

CATHERINE: That’s right. And that’s the concern from Kent County, Bristol and East Providence. They’ve filed briefs with the PUC saying they’d see a roughly 32 percent rate hike, and they’d have to pass the costs on to customers.

CHUCK: And the rate hike for Providence residents?

CATHERINE: Roughly 24 percent. The Water Board says that’s adds up to about $6.00 a month more for the typical resident.

CHUCK: So Catherine, why is the Providence Water Board asking to raise its rates?

CATHERINE: General Manager Boyce Spinelli points underground to more than 500 miles of rusty, clogged pipes. He says some of the pipes delivering water today were built in the 1800’s.  They’re these cast iron relics creating rusty water, and some are so filled with buildup that water can barely pass through.  Pipes nowadays, he says, are lined with a protective coating and it’s going to cost millions of dollars to replace the old pipes with new, lined ones.

CHUCK: What’s the price tag?

CATHERINE: The Providence Water Authority says the rate hike will raise about $14.5 million a year to pay for the work. The grand total to replace all 550 miles of rusty, old pipe, I’m told, will cost about half-a-billion dollars.

CHUCK: That’s a big price tag. So Catherine, what’s next?

CATHERINE: Well, there’s a public hearing Wednesday night at the PUC in Warwick and another one in Providence two weeks later. Then there’s the hearing in November. Providence Water hopes to have the rate increase kick in by January 1st.

It’s also worth noting that there’s legislation on Smith Hill that would consolidate the Providence Water Supply Board with others to create what would be called the Ocean State Regional Water Authority, something similar to the Narragansett Bay Commission. Part of the goal of creating a new water authority would be to help pay for all those new miles of pipe.

Providence Water Supply Board Public Hearings

Wednesday June 5th 6:00pm

Public Utilities Commission

89 Jefferson Blvd

Warwick, RI

Tuesday June 18th 6:00pm

Providence Public safety Complex – Auditorium

325 Washington Street

Providence, RI

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