Water flows, but who pays what?

The party’s over. Now, who’s going to pay?
The Bristol County Water Authority finds itself in this all-too-
familiar position after hooking up with Providence’s sprawling Scituate
Reservoir water supply system.
The tri-town authority, which supplies 15,500 residents of
Barrington, Bristol and Warren, threw a party at its new Nayatt Road
pumping station in Barrington to celebrate the connection, an 11-mile
pipeline running under the Providence River between Cranston and Warren.
Nearly 100 people huddling under a marquee from an unseasonable
thunder and lightning storm heard the pipeline hailed as the end of
the authority’s troubles as they nibbled on cookies and sipped coffee.
The authority system, also fed by three small reservoirs in nearby
Massachusetts, has had had summer use limits and taste problems ever
since the authority bought it from the former Bristol County Water Co.
in 1986.
“No more water bans,” crowed Pasquale DeLise, the authority’s
executive director, at the party.
“Enjoy the water,” added Mayor Vincent A. Cianci Jr., of Providence,
which gets a little over $900 for every million gallons of water it
wholesales to the authority’s three communities and l4 others in the
It isn’t likely, however, that authority customers are going to enjoy
the resulting water rates, already the highest in Rhode Island.
It was estimated originally that the pipeline, including an
emergency connection with East Providence, which has been part of the
Scituate system for years, would cost $26.5 million, with the state
Water Resources Board footing $14.8 million of this from the sale of
revenue bonds.
The $26.5 estimate was based on plans to lay and cover the pipeline in
a trench dug in the bottom of the Providence River .
The cost jumped to $33.4 million, however, when the authority elected
to drill a 36-inch diameter tunnel for the 24-inch pipeline for a
distance of 4,600 feet under the river bed to avoid stirring up the
contaminated mud there and increasing pollution in the river.
Now, the authority wants the state to cover the shortfall between the
project’s estimated and actual costs.
“If the people of Bristol County are required to pay for the entire
shortfall, it is estimated that water rates will escalate to $525 per
year (from the current $360) by the year 2002,” the authority’s
chairman, Joseph G. Rego, wrote Governor Lincoln Almond last June.
Almond has referred the matter to the state water board. It,
however, says it is bound to cover only the $14.8 million provided
under the 1993 law that authorized the pipeline.
Board chairman, Daniel W. Varin, retired state planning chief, wrote
Almond last July: “The board also is aware that the authority’s rates
are and will continue to be the highest in the state.
” We would point out, however, that some system must impose the
highest rates, and that the future rates projected by the Authority are
not excessive when compared with those of water systems in other parts
of the country,” he said.
“It is unfortunate that Rhode Island’s long reliance on inexpensive
water has led too many to expect that this vital resource can be
provided at nominal cost. This is no longer the case for any of our
water systems,” Varin said.
Besides covering the pipeline shortfall, the authority must pay for
maintaining and improving its existing system.
Environmentalists insisted on this when the l993 pipeline law was
being drafted in order to stretch Scituate Reservoir’s supplies as
long as possible. The reservoir already supplies more than 60 percent of
Rhode Island’s population.
Upgrading costs have not been determined yet, but are estimated to be
more than $20 million, mostly for repairing the badly deteriorated —
and locally infamous — Shad Factory pipeline and Childs Street
treatment plant in Warren
Authority officials weren’t talking about these matters at the
pipeline party, but it seems likely that they will be talking financial
relief in the next General Assembly session.

No posts to display