DEC makes Tupper put in water meters

But village insists it won’t change the way it charges

TUPPER LAKE — Village faucets are running with clean water from the newly operational wells at Pitchfork Pond on the north side of town, but the village is not out of the woods yet.

Mayor Paul Maroun announced Wednesday that the state Department of Environmental Conservation is requiring the village to place water meters on all houses and buildings in the town at a cost of around $1 million, but said that the village will not be using them for anything but data and pinpointing leaks.

The DEC is demanding Tupper Lake install the meters, and not doing so could result in fines for the village.

Maroun said the addition of water meters will not change the water rate, which is currently $28.40 a month for town residents and $21.20 for village residents with around 50 different rates for commercial properties. For example, a restaurant pays $49.70. The village will not charge water users on a scale based on the new measurements, Maroun said. Trustee Clint Hollingsworth described them as being more monitors than meters.

Maroun estimates that adding meters to more than 3,200 sites across town and that he has already designated around $150,000 left over from the original water improvement grant for the project. The DEC has also pledged to help the village with grants from the Environmental Facilities Corporation.

Maroun said the idea of water meters was pitched around 20 years ago in an effort to reduce seniors’ monthly bills and that the mayor then was “crucified” for backing it. He said he did not oppose the idea of having a flat water rate for a certain number of gallons and charging a few cents for every gallon used past that point, reducing bills for seniors or single people who require less water, but he added that he knows the idea is not well accepted by villagers.

Maroun said he tried to see if the village could get out of the obligation but was cornered into it.

The village worked with both the state EFC and Department of Health on the wells, a mandatory project from the DOH to end the use of groundwater from Big Tupper Lake and Little Simond Pond. The DEC got involved when it came time for it to issue a withdrawal permit for extracting the water from the ground.

Maroun said there was a “dysfunction” in the communication between the state agencies which led to the last-minute addition.

“I went ballistic at first,” Maroun said. “I got mad and hung up.”

He talked with the DEC after thinking about it over the weekend, and DEC officials agreed to issue the withdrawal permit for the water with the condition that the village install meters on all town sites within five years. Maroun agreed because he said he wants to stay friendly with the DEC, and that a lawsuit over the rule would likely be expensive and a losing battle.

Maroun said if he had known about the requirement at the beginning of the project he would have put more money in the bond fund and could have worked on applying for more grants.

“This is why people get mad at government. This is why I’m mad,” Maroun said. “If there’s going to be a new water operation in any village or town DEC should be involved because they’re the ones, the only ones, who issue the water withdrawal permit.”

The benefits of the meters once they are installed, Maroun said, will be that the village water department will be able to pinpoint leaks quickly and accurately. Several village trustees recalled a leak last year that lasted four weeks, and said that with the new system they could identify it within hours.

The village water department will begin installing the meters next year, putting in 40 to 60 a month and starting by placing them on commercial buildings such as car washes, schools and hospital buildings.

The village of Saranac Lake installed water meters roughly eight years ago and charges users based on meter readings of water use.