Sunday, July 14, 2024

Fresh Pond Reservoir on April 11. (Photo: Marc Levy)

Cambridge residents’ water and sewer bills are rising – though by less than $100 on average – for reasons ranging from inflation to the war in Ukraine.

The city charges only to cover its expenditures, staff said March 18 to city councillors, but inflationary costs and supply chain issues that make construction of infrastructure projects more expensive and push up that bottom line is not a trend that’s expected to stop.

“Just in one recent contract for a water main installation, the contract price from the last contract to this contract has actually gone up 42 percent,” said Mark Gallagher, the acting managing director of the Water Department, in comments to the council. “And we’re seeing that across the board – basically all of our labor and materials costs have increased since Covid, and then the supply chain issues following Covid, and the war in Ukraine stressed our supply chains considerably.”

That is reflected in increases starting Monday of a combined 5.23 percent in water and sewer pricing for residents proposed by City Manager Yi-An Huang and accepted by the council: Single-family homes will pay an average $1,183 for the upcoming fiscal year, up $59 from current rates; two-families will pay approximately $1,570, up $78; and three-families will pay $2,313, up $115.

The increases in charges – 6.8 percent for water use and 4.8 percent for sewer – is expected to bring in $91.6 million in the 2025 fiscal year starting July 1, up from a projected $87 million in the current fiscal year.

Until 2021, the city had held the line on water and sewer increases for a decade. 

The City Council questioned staff about chloride levels in the city’s water supply. High levels of chloride in water can cause corrosion of pipes and other equipment it flows through, as well as posing a health risk at higher concentrations. Damage to infrastructure from hard water could raise costs in upkeep.

“The hardness and chlorides issue is definitely a priority that we are looking into,” Gallagher said. “Our first priority, of course, is making sure that we meet drinking water regulations. Things like chlorides and hardness are secondary standards, which are usually for aesthetics. They are important to us, and we are researching ways that we can reduce those.”

The water can also damage consumer appliances.

Councillor Patty Nolan asked staff to be aware of those downstream costs. “I understand we’re meeting all the health and drinking [requirements],” Nolan said. “And yet, there’s distributed costs throughout the city.”

Failure of plumbing equipment from Cambridge’s hard water “ends up being a cost that is borne by the individual,” Nolan said.