Controversial Water Discount Is Once Again Before MDC Board | Connecticut Public Radio

Controversial Water Discount Is Once Again Before MDC Board

Feb 28, 2020

The Metropolitan District Commission is slated to vote Monday night on a water proposal that would give a discount to its biggest customer, a bottled water company. 

The MDC says people are using less water. Less consumption means less revenue. Less revenue means rising rates. Last year, customers saw the water rate jump nearly 14%.

The agency, which represents Hartford and seven surrounding towns, said it wants to fix that revenue problem by implementing a discount for large water consumers. The proposed discount would be open to anyone, but right now, it would affect only one customer: Niagara Bottling, a bottled water company in Bloomfield. 

Speaking at a recent public hearing, Windsor resident Karen Hatcher said she was confused.

“If we as consumers are using less … why are we rewarding those who use and consume more?” Hatcher asked.

The proposal would charge heavy users like Niagara the same rate as normal water users up to a threshold of 600,000 gallons per day. 

Any amount used over that would discounted. 

The MDC said many other water utilities in Connecticut offer reduced rates to large consumers. The idea, said MDC Chief Operating Officer Chris Levesque, is to encourage these customers to buy more as households use less and less.

“There’s a reduction in consumption year after year,” Levesque said. “Most water utilities in the country are seeing this as well, through reduced consumption from improved water efficiency. Also just conservative efforts from the customers to reduce their water usage.”

“Our goal is if we can bring in additional revenue, this has the opportunity to lower rates for us in the future,” Levesque said. 

Right now, the average MDC customer pays between $600 and $700 annually. 

Hartford resident Rhonda Leonard said any break on water bills would be helpful. 

“Water isn’t just about the environment and conservation, it’s about cost,” Leonard said. “We encourage our neighbors in the surrounding towns to think of the families who are struggling to maintain their quality of life.”

David Silverstone, the state-appointed MDC independent consumer advocate, said he’s not convinced the discount would work.

Silverstone said he’s not opposed to “increasing prudent sales to increase revenue,” but the data he’s seen so far doesn’t convince him the MDC’s plan would actually do that. 

Silverstone said bottled water companies have lots of other expenses beyond water, like plastic bottles and labor. And if Niagara’s 2020 water consumption mirrors last year, Silverstone said, the MDC would actually lose money under the new rates.

“The data -- not the ‘maybes’ and the ‘couldas’ and the ‘shouldas’ … but the data, indicates that the customer is not price sensitive. And this will not affect his usage,” Silverstone said.

The rate discount has come up three times before, most recently in 2018, when it failed to reach a full board vote.

The MDC’s full district board is set to vote on the proposed discount Monday night.