Stretching from upstate and leading all the way down to the Big Apple, New York City’s water system truly is a modern marvel. The system, which includes huge supply tunnels, makes it possible for millions to live and work in New York City. But like so many other utilities these days, the cost of that life-giving and business-sustaining water is constantly going up. Depending on who you ask, compared to the cost for water just a generation ago, fees for water usage in the city are either sky high or downright unreasonable.
Questions about water billing began surfacing in 2011 when the New York City Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) started installing Automated Meter Reading (AMR) systems to monitor customers’ water usage. Residents in Queens began seeing what they thought were inflated bills and asked the New York City Council to investigate.
While some residents feel they are in much the same predicament today as when the billing changeover began more than a decade back, a more responsive DEP and more programs are meant to ensure that all water customers are treated fairly, whether or not they have a fully functioning water meter on their building.
Counting Each Drop
With 836,000 customers representing more than 8 million users served by 7,000 miles of water mains in the city, the New York City Water Board typically charges each building owner for water usage, rather than individual users. This system of billing is very different from the previously widely used method, which was to charge a building for water usage as a “frontage fee”—based on the size of the building. That is a flat rate paid according to the building's size.
These days, water usage is generally measured in multifamily buildings by a meter that reads the usage of the entire building. In most city residential buildings, residents are billed a fraction of the amount of the overall bill: if there are 100 units, each will pay one hundredth of the total bill, for example.