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“My Water Bills Are Too High – Hey Honey, We’re Out of Bottled Water!”

Posted on by nawcadmin





By Dennis W. Doll
Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer
Middlesex Water Company

The older I get, the more it’s apparent to me that “value” is a relative term. Those of us who earn our living providing water service to large populations know full well that relative to just about anything else that touches our daily lives, an adequate supply of clean safe water is at the top of the list.

The devastation caused by Superstorm Sandy in October 2012, coupled with the widespread loss of electric power, was a stark reminder that the ability to keep the water flowing in the wake of a natural disaster is critical. Had the water purveyors in the Northeast not been able to maintain any level of reliable service during the storm, the consequence would have been a major public health threat, layered on top of an already extraordinarily dire situation. It is very easy to understand why people largely take their water service for granted. The reality is– as an industry, we have provided the service so reliably, for so long and at a cost that doesn’t come close to many other elements of the household budget.

As a nation, we’re heavily dependent on the flexibility and freedom we enjoy from our vehicles. But, we also routinely gripe about the cost of gasoline.

Ironically, many of us think little of spending $1.50 or more for a 16-ounce bottle of water at the local convenience store which, on a per gallon basis, is more expensive than gasoline. Go figure. In contrast, for less than a penny a gallon, our National Association of Water Companies investor-owned member companies produce billions of gallons of water on a daily basis of comparable, if not better, quality. This comparison doesn’t even begin to illustrate the value this service provides for all our domestic and sanitary needs, for fire protection or for the value to economic stability and growth of our communities. Yet when water purveyors, whether public or private, request an increase in rates of any amount from their governing bodies or their regulators, those requests are generally met with ridicule and strong public opposition.

I get it. None of us likes to see the cost of our utilities increase. Where I think we’re failing is that the public doesn’t understand why increases are needed and may not be confident that the utility would spend the funds requested prudently. I believe there is a dramatic need to better educate the public about how utility services are regulated, why water service costs what it does and how prudent investments in infrastructure ultimately ensure continued reliability and safety now and well into the future.

It’s unfortunate that various consumer watchdog groups fan the flames of mistrust. They do this by making sweeping generalizations that water service delivered by investor-owned entities is deficient as to service and cost relative to our public counterparts.  They’ll cite the compensation of the CEO or municipal water department’s Executive Director, or take public financial information out of context to demonstrate how profitable an entity is and make judgments that a rate increase of any amount is not warranted, and on and on.

I argue this behavior is not only irresponsible, but is reprehensible. What is sorely needed is an honest discussion about the various ownership models and the relative advantages and disadvantages of each, which can be vastly different on a case-by-case basis. What is also needed is an honest and open discussion about the critical importance of maintaining healthy utilities, both operationally and financially.

It’s easy to forget that the safe, reliable and relatively affordable water service we all enjoy today, was only made possible through the collaboration of dedicated employees of water purveyors and regulators, over the more than 100-year history of many of our organizations. We owe it to our current customers, as well as to the next generation, to make sure we can maintain safe, reliable service. We help accomplish this by never losing sight of the true “value” of water in our lives, by being open and honest with our customers about our operations and our costs and by not letting those who have other agendas distract the public from the honest truth about their water service.

What about you, do you ever find yourself taking water for granted?  Why is that?

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7 Responses to “My Water Bills Are Too High – Hey Honey, We’re Out of Bottled Water!”

  1. James Craig says:

    I wanted to tell Dennis that is was nicely done and I agree with him. My best friend has been a Tidewater customer for sveral years now and he always complains to me that the water is too expensive! I have to explain to him everything we do to get him and his family safe drinking water and that we are always spending money to do that great job for him and his family. Nice job again Dennis!!!

  2. mike vonville says:

    Dear dennis from the content of your blog i must comment. I deal with our valued customers on a day to day basis . On most cases when im approached with a high water bill there has been a upset in there service such as a leak that was small and unnoticed for the quarter . For a person with limited income a thin budget the stress can soar a un forseen bill and no direction to resolve .The water meter is an unseen tool of our customers and they get blind sided unlike our electric meter on the side of the house they dont see it spin to follow ther usage .Where im going with all this is maybe if we looked as a concerned provider and were seen as such when an increase in there utility is required it would be accepted a little better . The use of news letters or e-mails to voice how much we value there bussiness along with our industries struggles could go along way in the future of our/my company . The customer should know we are making money but are doing so by providing a great quality of drinking water at a reasonable fee to a valued customer .

  3. Lisa Smallwood-Belk says:

    What are your thoughts on ionized water? Health benefits? Side effects?

  4. Bob Tamburri says:

    Back in the 1980s & early 1990s I worked with the Miller Brewing Co., doing their advertising. Routinely, we joined some of their marketing professionals doing “blind” tastes tests–to see which brand beer tasted the best. The competition went from very low priced to expensive imports. And the tastes testers were guys who “know our beer.” Amazingly, and more often than not, the winning beers were the Schmidts, Pabsts and Rolling Rock type beers (inexpensive) versus the Amstels, Heinekens,etc. Yet, as you say, people will spend more than what a gallon of gasoline costs for bottled water. Go figure. Well, as an ad guy, I know the answer. $$$$$. Again, as you say, there is a need to educate.

  5. allen says:

    Can you tell me the quality of my water in Colonia, NJ? I’m worried ever since I read about the situation with the City of Flint Michigan and the lead in their water. Thank you.

    • Good morning Allen. I have forwarded your inquiry to Middlesex Water – they are a member of NAWC. Someone from Middlesex Water will be reaching out to you by email and they have informed me that their CEO would be eager to have a conversation with you regarding your concerns.
      Thank you,
      Marybeth Leongini

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