Turn the tap. Water comes out. It’s as simple as that.
It’s been happening that way for decades, if not more than a century, in most parts of Warwick. At one time, the city had a number of independent water companies serving neighborhoods like Buttonwoods, Apponaug and Conimicut.
Today it has two.
The city’s Water Division with 26,900 customers serves the greater part of the city. The Kent County Water Authority serves another 4,600 Warwick customers, largely in Apponaug, Natick and Cowesett. Some residents still have their own wells, but they are the exception.
The Warwick system depends entirely on water from the Providence Water Supply Board. Kent also buys water from Providence but, in addition, has wells it is developing to fulfill 40 percent of its needs.
As reported in today’s Beacon, Providence Water has filed for a 32.8 percent increase in its wholesale rate. This, along with an increase to its retail customers of about 25 percent, would generate an additional $14.4 million that Providence Water would use to upgrade its infrastructure, including a program to replace 550 miles of cast iron pipes. Many of those pipes are mains that deliver water to Providence retail customers.
Rightfully, Warwick Water and Kent County question why their customers should help underwrite the cost of improving service to Providence customers. Whatever increases in wholesale rates that will get passed along to Warwick customers should relate directly to costs to delivering water to them, not somebody else.
However, we should also recognize that Providence is stepping up its program to replace infrastructure before it becomes problematic. Shouldn’t Warwick be doing the same?
Warwick has about 375 miles of pipe, of which about a third is cast iron and up to 70 years old and older. Based on what Providence Water is paying to replace cast iron pipe, Warwick could expect to pay $1 million a mile. That’s a whopping $125 million.
Yet the division has budgeted $750,000 for infrastructure improvements. Much of that money would go to paint water towers and deal with emergency breaks, not replacement pipes.
It’s not that Warwick hasn’t thought of system replacement. Much of the water main replacement has been done in tandem with the installation of sewers. This is common sense. The street gets dug up once, and when the two jobs are finished it’s repaved.
In recent years, sewer construction has been on hold and water main replacement has come to a halt.
Now that a sewer review commission is looking at prioritizing sewer construction projects for the council, we urge they expand their study to include water. In combining efforts, there is the opportunity to ensure this vital resource is here for many more decades and, we hope, at a price we can afford.