County’s Water Use Estimates Disputed

By Jano Tantongco

The million-gallon tank on Wicks and Larkfield roads serves about 4,000 customers in Commack, where district Superintendent Bob Santoriello estimates residents use an average140,000 gallons of water each year -- twice the county’s estimate

Bob Santoriello, superintendent of the Greenlawn Water District, has been with the utility for 43 years. Regarding Suffolk County’s latest proposal for a water quality surcharge, he said that “in principle, it’s a great idea.”

 “Does it have merit? Of course it has merit. But, what can people afford?” he said. “$1 a thousand, that’s a lot of money, you know.”

 And Santoriello figures his average customer’s water usage is double what the county is providing as an average estimate.

 On April 25, County Executive Steve Bellone and advocates from both the environmental and business spectrum and elected officials, announced a proposed referendum that would give voters a choice of imposing a surcharge that would levy an additional $1 per 1,000 gallons used on their water bills. The money would fund water quality improvement projects.

 Though the county estimates that the average cost for a household would be $73, Santoriello figures that his residential customers use an average of 140,000 gallons of water each year, amounting to an additional $140 on their water bill.

 He added that his district pumped out about 2.4 billion gallons in 2015. Those services were divided among approximately 12,000 residential customers and 500 commercial users.

 As for the South Huntington Water District, its 2015 water quality report notes that it serves a population of 81,760. It pumped out 3.948 billion gallons of water in 2015. The district serves a large portion of Huntington Station, all of South Huntington and smaller portions of Huntington and Cold Spring Harbor.

 According to the district’s office manager, Dianne Rapczyk, the average residential user in the district uses 152,000 gallons per year, which would yield $152 if the surcharge is eventually enacted. Commercial users in the district average 512,000 gallons each year, she said.

 The $73 figure was derived from synthesizing data from the Suffolk County Water Authority, as well as local water districts, from 2014, county spokeswoman Pam Robinson said.

Suffolk County Legislator William “Doc” Spencer (D-Centerport) said he remains undecided on the the surcharge proposal, but does support “the idea of a referendum because it allows people to make choices about what they’re willing to pay for.”

Additionally, he noted that Huntington has had its own particular challenges with its waters, and that the town has set examples for others to follow.

“Huntington has been leading the charge for water quality. I think where we fit into this equation is we’ve made strides, and we’ve been able to see the results of having good water quality policy,” he said.

For the proposal to be set in motion, Bellone said Suffolk officials need issue a home rule message to the state that would authorize the measure to be placed on the ballot in November as a referendum. If passed through the state Senate and Assembly and signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, county voters would then be able to have their say on Election Day in November.