Scituate officials have backed away from a recommendation to raise water rates by 35 percent, opting instead for a 10 percent increase this year. But another increase could come as early as next year.
The latest increase, which is intended to partially resolve problems with discolored and distasteful water, is estimated to raise the water bill for the average family of four, which uses 90,000 gallons of water annually, to $418 a year from $386 a year. The rates take effect with the bills that go out at the end of this month.
Town officials aren’t sure how the additional revenue will be used; however, the funding will allow the town to borrow $3.6 million, paying off the debt with the $200,000 accumulated in revenue every year.
Consequently, the choice is between a $3.6 million manganese treatment system for one of the wells, or replacing approximately 3½ miles of aged pipe, which typically costs $1 million a mile.
The decision will be made by the Capital Planning Committee,the Advisory Board, and selectmen. A recommendation will then be voted on at Town Meeting.
Over the last five years, the town has replaced approximately 8 miles of pipe, installed between 1900 and 1930, but there are still 24 miles of such pipe to be replaced.
In the existing pipes, more than a century of water flow has created iron and manganese growths, called tuberculation, along the inside of the cast-iron pipe, causing brown water whenever pipes are moved or there is an unusual surge of water.
According to town officials, replacing the pipes is the only surefire way to get rid of the problem, which has plagued residents for decades.
“We’re going to be replacing these bad pipes, which we must do — they are 111 years old,” said Albert Bangert, director of the Department of Public Works. “They are rusted, rotten, and built up on the inside. It’s the singular cause of foul water . . . and the only way to fix it is to replace these pipes.”
Bangert initially suggested that selectmen raise water rates 35 percent, to $520 for the average family of four, to replace 8 miles of pipe and install the manganese treatment system— a $12.6 million cost.
However, selectmen were wary of raising rates so much, especially with a renovation of Town Hall, a middle school, and a public safety facility coming soon.
“I think we recognize that 35 percent was a very big hit, and in any economic times it’s a big increase — never mind these economic times. And there is only so much work the DPW could do each year anyway,” said Selectman Joseph Norton, the board’s chairman. “If they had gotten 35 percent, they couldn’t do all the work that money would pay for. Rather than giving them 35 percent, we gave them what they could do in a year, and that’s about 10 percent.”
The rate increase, however, comes with the expectation that more requests for increases are to come, Norton said.
“It was a tough decision, because brown water is a big major problem and the only way to fix it is to replace pipes. The DPW is correct in their assumption of what needs to be done, but we needed to make a decision of what we could afford to be done,” Norton said.
Still, Bangert was pleased with the increase.
“We were saying a large increase, but they have to balance all sorts of agendas, so we’re pleased we can go forward and double the rate of pipe replacement,” Bangert said.
At this rate, it would take 14 years before all 24 miles of the 111-year-old pipes in town are replaced, Bangert said. Most likely, the town will approach residents about another increase next spring.