LONGPORT — In a tiny borough with 880 year-round residents, high water usage has become a concern for city officials, who are looking for ways to conserve to reduce stress on an aging water system.
“We’re using more water, and we have an old, archaic system that’s going to eventually need replacement, particularly the wells, so we need to balance what we’re going to build versus what we’re going to use,” said Dick Carter, the borough’s municipal engineer.
Longport is hoping to stave off expensive infrastructure repairs, something that can be a particular burden to municipal water systems that lack the massive capital of big private systems such as New Jersey American Water.
Like many of the South Jersey shore towns, Longport operates its own water service through a dedicated water and sewer utility.
Carter said the overages in water usage during the summer strain the system, which leads to costly maintenance and repairs.
Longport has not considered privatizing its water system, he said.
“Privatization, in my experience, has been that the results are much more costly to the users,” Carter said. “We don’t have a problem maintaining our system. It runs very efficient.”
He said dedicated water utilities are not obligated to make money like corporations.
Mayor Nick Russo said customers pay $490 for the year for water and sewer, $180 of which is for water usage up to 75,000 gallons. There is a fee for users who go over their allotted 75,000 gallons.
The costs of capital projects affect rates for users whether through private or municipally owned systems, and some towns see that as a benefit of privatization.
Ocean City and the Strathmere section of Upper Township are the only communities on barrier islands in Atlantic and Cape May counties that use New Jersey American Water.
Joe Clark, Ocean City’s purchasing manager, said that an advantage of privatized water is that the private company is able to access a large amount of capital quickly.
As an example, he said that after Hurricane Sandy in October 2012, there were a lot of pipes that needed to be replaced or repaired due to settlement from flooding.
“The water company is able to facilitate those repairs and, in some cases, millions and millions of dollars have to be spent,” Clark said. “They’re able to move on it a lot faster than a municipal water utility.”
New Jersey American Water spokesman Richard Barnes said that in the past three years, the company spent $775 million on water system upgrades. The utility is regulated by the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities.
“Our rates are set by the BPU, based on what we’ve invested in our water system. The investments that we make in water service undergo a monthslong, intensive review by the BPU as we request to recover those costs in rates,” Barnes said.
New Jersey American Water is in the midst of replacing 8,100 feet of aging water main in Ocean City from 12th to 15th streets. Residents there have a fixed service charge of $13.60 per month.
There is also a combined charge of $6.62 per 1,000 gallons of consumption and a Purchased Water Adjustment Clause charge.
In the Wildwoods, which have shared a single municipal water utility among the four towns since the early 1900s, rates are calculated quarterly and include a fixed service charge of $24.85 per quarter. There is a usage charge of $2.51 per 1,000 gallons up to 50,000 gallons. Higher usage triggers a rate of $3.46 per 1,000 gallons.
Funding for infrastructure projects must come out of the utility itself, which has the capacity to bond for projects, said Ed Cerrone, chief pumping station operator. He said those costs are reflected in the rate.
Carter hopes Longport can keep rates low by reducing water usage.
Conservation efforts expected to be in place this year include bumping up the amount of times per year the meter is read — currently just once a year — going to even/odd lawn-watering days and regulation of new landscaping.