Public water consumers in the Biddeford-Saco-Old Orchard Beach area will soon see a moderate spike in their monthly water bills.
According to Maine Water, a rate increase of 77 percent will be spread out over a three-year period and be used to help fund the upgrade of existing infrastructure and build a new treatment plant on outer South Street in Biddeford.
Rick Knowlton, president of Maine Water, said the typical residential water bill will increase about 20 cents per day in each of the next three years, roughly $5 to $6 per month in each of the three steps proposed. When the full rate increase process is complete, water service will cost about a penny per gallon.
“We understand this rate increase is significant,” Knowlton said. “There is never a good time to increase water bills. The project to replace the water treatment facility began years ago and construction is nearing completion. We delayed our rate filing for as long as we could in hopes of some relief from the pandemic. Filing now allows our customers the opportunity to phase in this increase gradually over three years. Delaying the filing further would increase water bills even more.”
In addition to assistance from local and state agencies, Maine Water has financial assistance available for customers that have been negatively impacted by COVID-19, Knowlton said.
Maine Water purchased the Biddeford-Saco Water Company in 2012. Knowlton said his company knew that the existing treatment facility and water delivery systems would need significant upgrades.
The current treatment facility was built in 1884, and renovations to that facility were last made in 1936 in order to keep up with the growing demands of a robust manufacturing sector on the banks of the Saco River.
Knowlton said Maine Water hired an engineering firm to evaluate the company’s infrastructure in 2013. According to Knowlton, that report detailed a laundry list of needed improvements in order for the company to keep providing clean and safe drinking water.
Construction of the $53 million project began in 2020. The new facility will be in service in the spring of 2022.
“With 40,000 people relying on one source of drinking water every day, we have to have the facilities in place that can deliver,” Knowlton said. “This project will provide reliable, resilient and efficient water service for decades to come.”
The new facility will produce high quality water more consistently, Knowlton said, pointing to the fact that the river water quality does change with the seasons and with storm events. He said the new facility will be better equipped to handle those natural variations. The new facility will be more efficient and use less labor, less power and less chemical to produce a gallon of drinking water than is used today.
Biddeford Mayor Alan Casavant said that he and other municipal officials from Biddeford, Saco and Old Orchard Beach took a tour of the plant four years ago.
“I was shocked by what I saw,” Casavant said. “There was no question, whatsoever, that the plant was near the end of its useful operation.”
Casavant said the municipalities will not be making the decision about whether to approve the rate increase.
The rate increase proposal is now being reviewed by the Maine Public Utilities Commission.
Maine Water serves more than 40,000 people in Biddeford, Saco, OOB and the Pine Point area of Scarborough and the company employs 45 people in the Biddeford-Saco area.
Originally published in Saco Bay News