New York American Water issued a voluntary conservation notice on June 29 to its Long Island customers: “The heat wave impacting Long Island is leading to extremely high water use by our customers and putting significant stress on the water supply.” The company suggested that customers limit their water use to indoor necessities, making lawn maintenance their last priority.
In response, some Baldwinites have already been looking to native gardens for water conservation. “Just recently I realized the importance of native planting, so rather than rip up all I’ve done over the years, I’m just incorporating native into my garden and expanding to minimize the lawn,” said Marguerite Grasing Keller, a 53-year resident of Baldwin.
It takes about 7,000 gallons of water a week to sufficiently water the average lawn, which is a quarter of an acre. This means that if the average person uses about 100 gallons of water a day, then the water used for lawn maintenance each week is equivalent to the water used by 2.26 people in an average month.
Among making use of rainwater and watering in the early morning or night, American water also recommends using drought-resistant native species that are already adapted to local conditions.
“Drought-tolerant gardening is best. Native plants help because they thrive best in natural conditions,” said Baldwinite Sonia Lopez, “We should be working with nature, not against it.”
In June 2017, the New York State Public Service Commission approved a four-year rate plan for New York American Water, which included the current conservation rate structure. American Water stated they aimed “to reduce water consumption by 15 percent to help ensure the long-term sustainability of our water source.”
In order to pay for the $130 million New York American Water spent on replacing, rehabilitating and upgrading their treatment and distribution facilities after the last rate change was approved, this new conservation rate structure charges customers based on water use—the more they use, the more they pay per gallon.
Because of the Covid-19 public health emergency, New York American Water postponed the approved fourth year rate increase for 13 months, reinstituting it on May 1. Thereafter, Baldwin customers were paying from about $25 to $160 more per month, depending on water use. Currently, the price for 100 gallons varies from 49 cents to $1.28, which would mean at least $140 a month for lawn maintenance.
Baldwinites have not been unaware of this rate hike. “American Water jacks the rates so high, and on the first hot day, you get a call to conserve water. No problem. I’ll let my veggies and herbs die. Not happening,” said Anthony Bevilacqua.
Paulette Lalljee also recognizes these hikes, but prioritizes water conservation, “Those who are talking about water rates don’t seem to understand “think globally, act locally.” It’s not about a single water plant. It’s about the Earth we share.”
In Baldwin, the temperature climbed to 90 degrees on June 28 and 29 and then again on July 7. According to the National Weather Service, the record temperature of 98 degrees has been tied at LaGuardia Airport, and Central Park and JFK Airport hit highs of 95 and 90 degrees, respectively.
In response to this heat wave, the Town of Hempstead opened nine cooling centers, extended pool hours to 8 p.m. and beach hours until 7 p.m. on July 6 and July 7, including at the Baldwin Senior Center.