[OPINION] Westport: Watch Your Water Bill!

Smart Water Westport was formed in 2017, during the Aquarion North Avenue water tank debate.

Since then, that group of residents has followed the state’s water activities. Last year, the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority granted intervener status to Smart Water Westport in Aquarion’s rate case, allowing them to review thousands of documents and asked questions.

Smart Water Westport says:

Wednesday was an important day in Connecticut. For the first time in decades, the state’s utility regulator (PURA), rejected a requested rate hike by a utility.

Aquarion — our water company — sought a 30% rate increase over the next 3 years. In a 2-1 decision, PURA denied the request.

While this sounds like good news for customers, Westporters still face substantial increases — and still need to pay close attention. Here’s why:

1. Aquarion lost its bid for a rate hike because PURA found that it did not provide enough evidence to support the increase. This is a clear win for customers.

But those of us with yards, lawns or pools will still see an increase of up to 80%, because of a new rate structure that charges a premium for any water beyond what is deemed “essential.” The end result: Before you install a new lawn or turn on your irrigation system, think twice. At the very least, be sure to fix leaks — and plan for bigger bills.

2. Aquarion will most likely learn from this loss. We expect they will try to make a stronger case next time.

When they do that, it’s important that the town get credit for its conservation efforts, which are considerable.

It’s estimated that Westport’s water consumption will soon be down by 30% from the 2016 level, significantly more than Aquarion expected.

Unfortunately though, we won’t get credit for those savings. While we saved a great deal — mainly due to irrigation restrictions — we are seen as a wealthy town that can afford higher rates.

We need to fix that, so next time we can make the case to PURA that savings should be taken into account.

Westport’s water usage — including what’s stored in these North Avenue tanks — is down substantially, from 2016.

In fact, based on PURA’s decision, we estimate water bills in Westport are approximately twice as high as needed.

We are already paying 50% more than our neighbors in Norwalk. The difference is that Norwalk owns its water utility, while Westport is served by Aquarion, a private utility owned by Eversource.

This public/private distinction is a big part of the problem. But there are other reasons for our high rates as well.

For example, under current rules we wind up paying for Aquarion’s rate case proceedings. The cost of those proceedings is significant. This last proceeding alone would allow Norwalk water customers to cover their entire legal budget for the next 500 years (you read that correctly).

3. While water is certainly a critical resource, and we all agree that infrastructure investments are necessary, we are not sure we can trust Aquarion on these issues.

During this last go-round, for example, Aquarion basically told PURA that if they didn’t get their way, we could wind up like Flint, Michigan — a prophecy that even the regulators found “outlandish.” (PURA still approved $600 million in infrastructure investment, despite finding that Aquarion had not provided evidence for its “prudence,” as required by law).

Do we really need the new work that Aquarion is suggesting, or are they simply doing it to push more water around the state and/or make more money? We must be vigilant about these types of issues moving forward.

4. Finally, this is only the beginning: Aquarion is likely to appeal the decision.

We need to involve Westporters in the process and in a discussion about the state of water in our state, the future readiness of the system, and who will pay for it.

That’s why a group of us formed the non-profit Smart Water Westport, and are participating in the proceedings.

But we face huge hurdles, including that neither the state nor anyone else knows about the infrastructure situation because of a recognized “asymmetry of information.” (That basically means it is impossible to verify any information provided by private utilities).

But there is hope. As PURA’s chair recently noted, “If there is a message coming out of today, it is simply that PURA is prepared to hold regulated utilities accountable. And that’s what this decision does.”

Smart Water Westport encourages you to listen to the court’s deliberation on YouTube (below), where the 9-month process is summarized in a mere 20 minutes.

Please actively comment and support the decision. Even if you disagree, please consider commenting. Based on our experience, any comment is looked at and helps the state to improve the system for all of us.

If you have questions, please email smartwaterct@gmail.com. Thank you!

(Water is necessary for life. And donations are necessary for “06880” to publish. We’re a non-profit, and rely on reader support. Please click here to contribute — and thank you!)

23 responses to “[OPINION] Westport: Watch Your Water Bill!

  1. How can we be vigilant on this important issue? Is their a group spearheading this critical issue

  2. Watering lawns, golf courses and filling swimming pools SHOULD cost more than “necessary household water,” just as all luxuries cost more than most necessities…not only is water a “critical resource” as the blog points out, it is also not an infinite one, and excess, luxury use should garner an excess, luxury charge.

  3. Eric William Buchroeder SHS ‘70

    As any smart EPA administrator knows, water goes further when it’s repurposed/recycled. But it’s the sequence that counts: Start with your lawn. Then your laundry, then your bath water (don’t forget to capture the methane (just sniff the bubbles and inhale) then use to brew coffee. Ah!!! The refreshing aroma of Starbucks!!!!

  4. The contamination of the water in Westport is quite alarming ( 3 times worse than Baltimore ad RI where I also have family )
    Most of Weston is well water They found and remediated the school of PFAS;s but refused to alert the town of this most certain probability in all Weston wells

    Here is the link
    ( updated in 2021)

    22 total contaminants
    12 above EWG standards of safety
    5 are i violation of any federal drinking water standard from 4/2019 – 3/2021

  5. Simple one sentence answer.

    When the US deregulated utilities we shot ourselves in the foot with our own gun!!!

  6. Valerie Seiling Jacobs

    We all owe a debt of gratitude to this group for its diligence. And yes, while there should be a tiered rate structure (where non-essential usage costs more), it’s also true that we shouldn’t be paying so much more than other towns. This is what happens when we hand our natural resources over to for-profit entities that care more about the bottom line than the public good. Finally–but on a related note–if you want to reduce your outdoor water consumption, then stop blowing your lawns–which desiccates the soil. Grass clippings are a natural source of water and nutriments (and no, they don’t cause thatch).

    • Is “non-essential use” a defined term relative to this matter, Valerie? If so, where does that definition appear and who was the author? As a humorous, but slightly on-point aside, can you just imagine all the fur which would fly if we adopted a two tier system for fuel for, um, Westport houses and vehicles? I herewith decree that anything larger than a 50’s ranch and a Beatle is “non-essential” (a certain commenter will have to mothball his giant, gas guzzling pickup truck). Next stop: “non-essential” travel, clothing. And food.

  7. Lawrence Erdmann

    If one has a monopoly business and that business has a steady decline in usage/sales of its product amounting to a decline of 30% over the last 6 years, what would that business do? Raise prices. That is especially true if the business has very high fixed costs and very low variable costs. Why are we surprised in this instance?

  8. Perhaps local water companies wouldn’t have to raise rates if they stopped major, currently unnecessary infra-structure expansions like the enormous water tower in Norwalk and the huge tanks on North Avenue.

    Both projects were sold to these communities as dire necessities — to assure adequate service to Norwalk Hospital and the Westport Fire Department.

    As a planner by profession, it was clear to me from the outset that the real motive was expanding public water services into communities to the north of Norwalk and Westport currently primarily served by wells.

    Look out New Canaan, Wilton and Weston!

  9. Please will someone please name a public serice, agency or public utility where deregulation has created or changed the same to a net benefit to the public. Me thinks you’ll be hard pressed to do that or succeed. I will try to fact check any so called positive benefit scenarios. My opinion is give government the regulation of such agencies or business utilities and you can then bend over a kiss your ars goodby!

  10. Carl Addison Swanson, SHS, 66

    Ronnie deregulated the S&L’s in ’82. Look how well that worked out? I would counter that the individual members of the laundry list of overseeing entities you mentioned determine the success of the regulation. One party likes to look the other way.

  11. Eric William Buchroeder SHS ‘70

    Regulation is a losing proposition. Especially where it counts: Westport Schools. Mr. Ready tried regulation at Greens Farms School when I was there ‘57- ‘62. I broke him. We moved across town. Miss Sleep tried regulation ‘62 – ‘64. I rode her like a mule.

  12. Stephanie Bass

    Did i correctly understand we are responsible for RATE CASE PROCEEDINGS to mean we pay their lawyers to push thru rate hikes? If not please explain.
    Always wondered why it is monopoly and who sold us out and when.

  13. Let me add to this wonderous list:
    Air- eek
    Rail- Ugh
    Highway- Ouch
    NASA- SPACEX curing 50 years black hole spending

    OIL & GAS – holy crapola
    Nuclear- disappearing act
    Public Utility- whats public?
    Solar & Wind – green piles of propagandafed Communication

    Trade & Consumer:
    Fed Trade Comm. – monoopoly? Consumer protection?
    Fed Communication – internet, cellular, who really runs this?
    Fed consumer protection- what the heck is that?
    National Health – what science and truth?
    Health & Human Services – fails its physical!
    Banking- We are batting 000 here- spell SVB
    FEDERAL RESRVE – print funny money and raise interest!


    IRS – 87,000 agents with guns will fix this!
    Border Patrol – everybody & all drugs welcome
    FBI – the latest political weapon
    DOJ – Laws & enforcement by those in power

    I can’t go on its to painful!

    I hope all reading this list and honestly give our beauracrats and politicians a grade between A and F.
    I’ve only used D & F on my keyboard.

  14. All these wonderful agencies are stuffed to the rafters with admissions only university graduates. They are a big part of the problem not a solution. I think it’s called the “Gov’t Graveytrain”
    Yes, that’s a hell of a solution !

  15. Krista
    Why are you also name dropping with your supposed belief that the ” gravy train” is being heavily populated by charter school students. You need to carefully study the numbers and you will see that public school graduates populate the government “gravey train” agencies by a higher than others by at leat 25 to 1 ratio. Please stow your misinformed name drops to factual information for 06880 comments. THX

Leave a Reply