The Warwick Water Division, serving more than 25,000 customers, is looking at a 20.7 percent increase in wholesale water rates this year with additional increases in the following two years, according to a filing made in December with the Public Utilities Commission.
Warwick buys its water from the Providence Water Supply Board, which also wholesales water to Bristol County, East Providence, Greenville, Kent County, Lincoln and Smithfield.
How the proposed rate increases will impact Warwick customers is hard to determine at this point. Already, Kent and Bristol counties have filed as intervenors – and if experience is a good indicator, rate increases approved by the PUC, if any, could be substantially less than the initial request.
However, if the 20.7 percent increase is implemented, the added costs would be passed on to customers. The Beacon was unable to learn how that might affect the water bill of the average Warwick homeowner.
Informed of the possible increase in rates, Mayor Joseph Solomon contacted the city solicitor. According to the PUC, the city has until Feb. 3 to petition as an intervenor. Hearings on the Providence Water Supply Board request are expected to take place in July.
Solomon said he wants to learn of the Providence Water Supply Board’s “justification” for the proposed increases as well as understand its impact on Warwick customers.
Wholesale rates are but one factor pointing to the likelihood Warwick water customers could see a rate increase in the near future.
Unlike the Kent County Water Authority that services western portions of the city and whose rates are markedly higher than Warwick, Warwick rates do not include an R&R, or renewal and replace, fund dedicated to address aging infrastructure. Yet the Water Division is faced with an aging infrastructure, with the most glaring failure being the rupture of a 24-inch service line that occurred in December 2017 and has still not been repaired. The division has held off on repairs to perform a study of the line. It received bids last November to do the work.
Division director Daniel O’Rourke has named R.P. Iannuccillo & Sons Construction as the preferred of two bidders to do a study of the line at a cost of $241,250. Iannuccillo’s bid less alternatives is $191,250.
The second and higher bid to perform the work that includes a camera inspection (televising) of the line, excavations and testing was submitted by Dewcon Inc. at $383,060 and $325,935 less alternatives.
Solomon said he had “sticker shock” when he reviewed the preferred bid. The City Council will review the bid and, if in agreement, make the award.
O’Rouke said the division has the funds to pay for the study. Until the study is completed and the extent of repairs understood – inserting a sleeve in the broken pipe would enable repairs without digging up portions of Routes 95 and 37 – it is not known how much would be needed to ensure the integrity of the major transmission line.
Conceivably, such a project could be another candidate for a low-interest bond from the Rhode Island Infrastructure Bank. The city is turning to the infrastructure bank to finance the acquisition and conversion of 9,000 streetlights to energy efficient LED technology and for $10.2 million for road repaving over the next three years.
When the pipe that goes under the Pawtuxet River, Interstate 95 and Route 37 burst, most of Warwick lost water. Few noticed it because the break occurred in the early morning hours and the service was quickly transferred to a parallel 24-inch pipe that had wisely been installed at the time of construction. The two 24-inch lines split off from a 30-inch Cranston aqueduct before reaching the river and are then rejoined after passing under Route 37.
Fortunately, the remaining 24-inch transmission line continues to operate without problems. But if that goes, alternate means of adequately supplying the city’s water system would be severely tested. The Kent County Water Authority links to the Warwick system, but it couldn’t provide the capacity to serve the full city. There is another connection with Cranston and the Providence Water Supply at the north end of the city, but it couldn’t provide the volume needed to serve Warwick.
Asked about this tenuous situation, Solomon noted that not only does the water system face needed upgrades but also the sewer system. The deterioration of the system has come to the forefront on three occasions in recent years with breaks in lines feeding the Cedar Swamp pumping station. One break two years ago forced a detour of a portion of Sandy Lane for several weeks as a crew using a technology that inserts a “sock” in the pipe and infuses it with resin that then hardens to form a coating made repairs. Since that incident, the authority has performed a study of its major interceptors and prioritized maintenance to avert additional failures.
Another break in a major water transmission line would leave the city with no alternative, the mayor said.
“We’ll fund it. We can’t survive without water,” he said.
According to the testimony of Harold Smith, vice president of Raftelis Financial Consultants of Charlotte, North Carolina, representing the Providence Water Supply Board, the requested increases for retail and wholesale customers are needed to meet projected increases in operating and maintenance costs. Smith said the rates would generate a total of $85.9 million in the first year, an increase of 18.3 percent from the $72.6 million it would collect under the current rate structure. If the three-year plan was fully implemented as proposed, Providence Water Supply would collect $96.6 million in 2023.
In the first year under the proposed wholesaler rate structure, Warwick costs would climb from $4.7 million to $5.6 million.
A second 7.3 percent increase would have the city paying a projected $6 million in 2022. That would climb to $6.3 million with a 3.9 percent increase in fiscal year 2023.