New state testing requirements for public water supplies have caused a sharp increase in water district bills per household in small rural communities, according to local elected officials.
Davenport Town Supervisor Dennis Valente raised the issue in January, when the new standards took effect for public water supplies that serve fewer than 3,300 residents.
The Davenport water district, for which Valente also serves as operator, provides water to just 48 units. The new testing requirements for the district’s two wells cost the town an additional $6,000, amounting to an approximately $150 bill increase per household. Valente estimated that 95% of those living in his district are minimum wage-earners or retired and living on fixed incomes.
“The state Department of Health is overwhelmed dealing with all sorts of health crises,” Valente said. “I’m the one that has to put my hand out and bill the customers and explain this to them.”
In July, the state Public Health and Planning Council adopted some of the most stringent standards in the nation for maximum contaminant levels of “forever chemicals,” which don’t break down under normal environmental conditions.
The council adopted a 10-parts-per-trillion maximum contaminant standard for perfluorooctanesulfonic acid, or PFOS, the key ingredient in Scotchgard and many other stain repellents, until 3M phased out U.S. production in 2000; and perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA, which has several industrial applications, including in the production of Teflon, that garnered national attention as the basis of a 2017 class action settlement against DuPont when studies showed a high incidence of kidney cancer, testicular cancer, ulcerative colitis, thyroid disease, high cholesterol and pregnancy-induced hypertension in thousands of Parkersburg, West Virginia, residents who drank water containing high levels of PFOA.
New York became the first state to establish a contaminant standard for 1,4-dioxane, a carcinogenic solvent used in household cleaning, cosmetics and personal care products that the Environmental Protection Agency said has been increasingly detected in drinking water sources across the country.
The new mandates have similarly affected Hamden’s water district, which serves between 50 and 60 homes, according to Town Supervisor Wayne Marshfield.
Based on estimates provided by the state Department of Health, Marshfield said the town budgeted an additional $6,400 for the new tests, which are required to be performed each quarter — more than double the $3,000 budget for the usual spate of tests.
“If we were the city of Oneonta or the city of Herkimer or even the village of Delhi, it might not matter as much, but we’ve only got so many households to divide this up,” Marshfield said. “We’re just little water districts and we’ve got to spend all this money.”
Marshfield estimated that the average Hamden household water bill increased from $83 a year to $107 this year. Water districts in Bovina, Colchester, Franklin, Bloomville and Treadwell are experiencing similar difficulties, he said.
As of the end of April, Marshfield said the Hamden water district had already conducted the required tests twice, finding “non-detectable amounts” of each of the contaminants in the town’s drinking supply.
Given that the first rounds of testing yielded negligible amounts of the three “forever chemicals,” Marshfield and Valente said they are appealing to their local Health Department representative and state elected officials for a waiver on future testing costs.
“Our little water districts are taking a hit over this,” Marshfield said. “It’s just not right.”
Sarah Eames, staff writer, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 607-441-7213. Follow her @DS_SarahE on Twitter.