When you turn on the water, you may not think where it’s coming from, but you certainly think about what it’s costing you and your family.
Victoria Bonney said that in the four years she has lived in Winthrop, her water and sewage bill has been rising every year.
“It cost us less to truck water in and fill the pool than it did to just open the pipe and fill it from town,” Bonney said.
Bonney also owns a two-family house in East Boston, where she says for double use her bill is lower than Winthrop’s.
“With three kids, that could do a lot for groceries,” Bonney said.
According to the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority (MWRA) Annual Retail Water and Sewer Rate Survey 2021, Winthrop has one of the highest rates in the market.
See the full survey at the bottom of the article.
Adam Rogers has lived in Winthrop for 11 years. “Everybody complains, but nobody wants to talk about it,” Rogers said.
In 2017, Rogers installed an irrigation system that sent its water bill through the roof.
“In the first quarter, we got the bill, and it was $997 and a few odd cents. I was like, ‘Oh wow.’ So I turned the water off to once every two days. Next quarter we got the bill, expecting it to be less. To the nearest penny, it was exactly the same amount.
“I contacted the city. They couldn’t really explain it,” Rogers said.
Instead, the City of Winthrop sent him several documents from their website, which now includes a frequently asked questions page regarding the water and sewer system.
Many residents, like Rogers, would like to know, “Why doesn’t my rate go down when I use less?”
According to the city’s website, “the largest expense in the water and sewer fund budget is for assessment paid to the MWRA. The city has no control over this assessment.”
Acting City Manager and Chief of Police Terence Delehanty has lived in Winthrop all his life.
“I have to pay it too,” Delehanty said. “I pay my term like everyone else.”
Currently, the City of Winthrop is seeing an annual increase of approximately 3-5% over MWRA assessments.
“If you look at the MWRA, DEP assessments, pension assessments, insurance and debt, that’s 77.9% of the budget. These are fixed costs that do not disappear. What will change is the MWRA’s assessment of our use,” Delehanty explained.
Depending on the city, other factors in your water and sewer bill include things like staff, primary interest, services, supplies, and overhead. This combined number totals the quarterly rate per 100 cubic feet.
Below is a full breakdown of how water and sewer rates are calculated in the City of Winthrop.
Martha Davis, a law professor at Northeastern University, has studied water affordability for years.
“Everyone needs water, you know. You need water whether you can afford it or not,” Davis said.
She told NBC10 Boston that some cities, like Boston, offer discounts to their seniors.
“That’s one of the things we’re looking at, how are cities meeting the needs that people have for real water needs?” Davis said.
“Here in New England, a major issue is aging pipes that need replacing, that may have leaked, or are leaking. And so all of those things combined increase the cost of the local utility.”
Another big chunk of cost is making sure your water is safe to drink.
“A drop of water that falls today will end up in your faucet, probably in about seven years,” said Joe Favaloro, executive director of the MWRA advisory board.
“Water and sewer bills have always been a problem. And clearly, they have increased every year. And it’s quite dramatic,” Favaloro told NBC10 Boston.
“There are all different little nuances in every community. It depends on how the community sets up its enterprise fund,” Favaloro said.
Delehanty told NBC10 Boston that the enterprise fund should be self-sufficient.
“There is no money from the general fund that offsets expenses for our water and sewer rates. Other communities have offsets through their general fund, not Winthrop.”
“We don’t have the infrastructure to build a water system here. It’s an expensive business. Would it be cheaper? I look at other agencies that do it, yes they do it cheaper. But you look at Lynnfield, they have a bifurcated system, one pays MWRA, the other doesn’t pay MWRA, so it gets complex,” Delehanty explained.
“It’s about whether or not you have the depth to do it. And Winthrop doesn’t have the depth to do it. We’re running a budget that’s really a stripped down budget and then we have minimal staff to run a water system.”
“I want to make sure people understand that no one in the DPW with water and sewer is getting rich off their salaries.”
The Town of Winthrop recently completed an audit of its water system. The results were published in December 2021.
“The City of Winthrop has retained The Abrahams Group and Environmental Partners Group, LLC (EP) to conduct a water and sewer rate study and water audit to provide recommendations. to minimize water loss.
“EP has systematically assessed the City of Winthrop’s water supply system for potential sources of water loss. Audit results reveal that inaccurate metering and leaks are major potential sources of water loss. Water loss costs the city of Winthrop about $1 million a year. The City can reduce losses by diversifying its use of leak detection technologies, implementing a meter testing program and replacing meters as needed, and improving the accuracy and documentation of CEMU values on the ASR. The city could also improve the accuracy and usefulness of its record keeping by digitizing service logs and establishing a modern water system asset management program.
Audit results reveal that inaccurate metering and leaks are major potential sources of water loss. Water loss costs the city of Winthrop about $1 million a year.
The Town of Winthrop is acting on these recommendations. Chief Delehanty told NBC10 Boston the city is under a phased plan to replace meters inside homes, and they’re also working to replace 46 miles of pipes.
“About 50% of the remaining pipes are 75 years old or older. That’s a lot of pipes. If you plan to replace all the pipes at once, it costs between 60 and 70 million dollars, maybe more than that. It’s expensive,” Delehanty said.
Favaloro of the MWRA said, “The older the infrastructure, the more it costs to fix it.”
“So I mean, all these things, it’s really a roundabout way, I guess, of saying it never ends. It’s just that if you’re doing your job, you have to spend money on yourself ensuring the systems continue to function properly,” Favaloro said.