Good afternoon. My name is Jim Gaughran, and I’m chairman of the Suffolk County Water Authority in Suffolk County, New York. We are a public benefit corporation operating under the Public Authorities Law of New York State. We are non- profit and without taxing power.
The Suffolk County Water Authority is the largest water supplier in the country providing solely groundwater. We have close to 380,000 customer accounts, and serve approximately 1.2 million Suffolk residents.
Given our size, the obligation to provide our customers with an annual report including precise, detailed information about the quality of their drinking water is an expensive one, though one we take very seriously. In fact, in the past two years, we’ve taken extensive steps to make the paper report far more user-friendly, including a greater use of color, diagrams showing readers how to easily find the information they need, and an expanded size.
Despite the improvements, though, we are here today to add our voices to the chorus of water suppliers calling for permission to provide the annual drinking water quality report, or consumer confidence report, primarily via electronic means.
There are, of course, the substantial costs to be considered. This year, we paid $84,348 to print and mail the report, which was delivered as a supplement included within a free newspaper delivered to Suffolk residents. Should we be permitted to distribute the report electronically, that money can be spent on rate stabilization, infrastructure improvements and other important projects. Like other water providers, we are faced with rising costs in making sure our water is perfectly safe to drink as well as mounting costs of employee pensions and health care. Having an additional $85,000 or more every year to address these rising costs would be beneficial to our customers.
But the bigger issue, the reason we traveled here to speak to you in person today, is our strong belief that making the electronic distribution of the report the primary means of getting the information to our customers would greatly improve our ability to provide meaningful information about water quality, not inhibit our ability to do so, as some seem to think. Quite frankly, considering the distribution of the current mandatory paper report, we’ve wondered if a significant number of customers even find it in the free newspaper, let along open it, digest it, ask questions about what they see. As
an organization that takes very seriously our responsibility to be environmentally-conscious in all aspects of our operations, this wholesale waste of paper bothers us; and as a company that maintains internal standards for testing that can be even tougher than state and federal regulations, we want our customers to be able to easily locate information about the quality of their water.
Earlier I noted that a greater emphasis on the electronic distribution of the report would benefit our customers in various ways. One would be to allow us to invest a portion of the annual savings to greatly improve our customers’ access to information about their water. We would, of course, make available paper copies to anyone who requests one, as well as stock them at libraries and other public buildings. But for the growing number of our customers who embrace modern technologies, we could provide an effective direct link to the information they need. Instead of finding a paper report in a free newspaper and sorting through 20 pages of results from nearly 600 wells located all over the county, they will be able to open a link and easily find detailed information about the water quality of the particular well or wells that serve their neighborhood.
We appreciate the time you’ve invested in studying this important topic in your draft report, and offer our full support to electronic distribution of consumer confidence reports.
Thank you for allowing us to express our views.