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Providence Water Supply Warns Customers of Elevated Lead Levels

Monday, June 27, 2016


Providence Water has warned customers of elevated lead levels in a new brochure.

The Providence Water Supply Board has officially warned customers that it has found elevated levels of lead in drinking water in some homes and buildings - and is telling customers that they “might want to have their drinking water tested" - by picking up a $15 test kit at its customer service location. 

In a brochure sent to customers entitled, “Important Information About Lead In Your Drinking Water,” Providence Water tells customers to read the information provided to “see what you can do to reduce lead in your drinking water.”

“Lead can cause serious health problems, especially for pregnant women and young children,” warns Providence Water. 

The communication is just one of the latest developments, following Matt O’Brien writing for the Associated Press in April, “Providence is One of Largest U.S. Water Systems to Violate Lead Standards.”

"An analysis of U.S. Environmental Protection Agency data by The Associated Press found that Providence’s drinking water system was one of the largest in the country to exceed a federal lead standard since 2013. It has gone over the limit six times since 2010 after testing samples of the tap water used by about 300,000 people in Providence and the surrounding cities of Cranston, Johnston and North Providence," wrote O'Brien. 

Questions Raised

Providence Water operates the largest water utility in Rhode Island, collecting, treating, and delivering drinking water to nearly 600,000 Rhode Islanders.

When asked when the testing took place, and which areas were elevated levels of lead found, Providence Water responded with only the following. 

“Providence Water is in full compliance with State and Federal lead and copper rules. While not required, the brochure you are referencing is being sent out by Providence Water as an ongoing educational initiative,” said Providence Water spokesperson Dyana Koelsch. 

The brochure offers “seven easy steps to ensure your water is as lead-free as possible,” in both English and Spanish, including:

* Flushing your home’s plumbing
* Use cold water for cooking and preparing baby formula
* Boiling water will not reduce lead
* Additional treatment of water
* Remove loose lead solder and debris from plumbing material
* Identify and replace lead materials with lead-free ones
* Determine if the service line that connects the home to the water mains made of lead

Providence Water stated that if customers find elevated levels of lead after the initial sample with the test kit, that Providence Water will “pay for a second test.”

The latest Providence Water Supply Board Quality Report can be found here; it is no longer being printed for wide-release, but can be printed upon request. 

Suggested Sale of Water Supply Board Meets Pushback

GoLocal wrote in May that following a proposal to sell the water supply board in a consultant report issued by Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza, that the prospect of the revenue-generator was met with resistance

Opponents to the sale of the Providence Water Supply Board (PWSB), which was mentioned as a possible “revenue initiative” in a recent consultant report commissioned by the city, are speaking out on the possibility of privatizing the state’s primary source of water distribution. 

The 167 page report conducted by the National Resources Network, who Providence Major Jorge Elorza partnered with to develop a plan to implement long-term budgeting solutions in the city, cited “Monetizing PWSB, Proceeds to Retiree Liability” of the sale of the approximately $370 million asset as one prospect to address the city’s long-term financial outlook. 


Related Slideshow: FY17 House Budget—Winners and Losers

The House Budget is passed and there were some last minute and controversial surprises.

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National Grid

When controversial Article 18 got pulled from the budget on Tuesday, critics had lauded the removal of the provision, which appeared to benefit a single wind farm - and the substantial political donor who owned it. But the real winner here is National Grid, the company owned by the British Energy Conglomerate, who would have had to force electric rate payers to pay millions more to connect renewable energy projects to the power grid and pay a greater share.

The battle is not over, however; Speaker Mattiello said that after having received feedback on Article18 and that he "reached the conclusion there are pieces of the article that do not need to be in the budget."  Given the level of scrutiny is it highly unlikely the measure will see light of day as a stand-alone measure before the session adjourns, but it can't be ruled out. 

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Statewide Tourism Campaign

There was no last minute relief for the Commerce Corp. The often controversial agency is taking a cut.

Following the ill-fated rollout of the statewide tourism campaign this year, House Finance opted to give money back to the regional tourism bureaus that had been slated to go to the centralized effort.

Mattiello said that the House finance budget is taking $1 to $2 million from the $5 million for next year from the statewide tourism office and giving it back to the regional tourism bureaus. “We had a snafu in the effort. We’ll rely on the locals for the year, and then it will transfer back to state initiative,” said Mattiello. 

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Medical Marijuana Growers, Patients

One of the biggest battles of the 2016 General Assembly session started when Governor Raimondo proposed a tagging fee on medical marijuana plants -- to major pushback. 

The tax as proposed in the Governor's 2017 budget would have imposed a $150 per plant charge on patients lawfully growing marijuana for medical purposes, and a $350 per plant charge for caregivers, for a projected total of $8.5 million in new revenue. 

House finance scaled back the fee-per-plant to $25, to cover the costs of regulating the marketplace. 

“Advocacy works. We listened to folks, no one really liked the proposal we received,” said Mattiello. “[As far as] the need of regulations, we’re probably on the low end of that. But we didn’t want to enhance revenues on prescription medications.”

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A surprise amendment that resussciated a dead proposal.

A late session effort by the City of Providence to get a $20 million bond question on the ballot for ProvPort in November initiatially hadfallen flat as a line item in the budget. 

Legislation introduced by Senate Majority Leader Dominick Ruggerio in late May and now a budget article add-on for a bond referendum of $20,000,000 to fund the acquisition, expansion and infrastructure improvement of up to approximately 25 acres of land and facilities located between Allens Avenue in Providence and the Providence River by ProvPort, Inc. 

While it appears to be a House Finance budget “loser” the battle is not over yet for the year, as Mattiello said there is still ongoing discussions. 

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Business Owners

Mattiello touted in his “pro-business, pro-economy” budget lowering the minimum corporate tax from $450 to $400. This comes a year after the General Assembly lowered it from $500 to $450 last year, taking away at that time the dubious distinction for Rhode Island being the state with the highest corporate minimum tax.  

“There are no new taxes or fees,” said Mattiello of the House Finance FY17 budget (apart from the $25 medical marijuana tax).

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School Infrastructure

Raimondo had called for a $40 million school construction and renovation bond to be put on the November ballot, but Mattiello said during a media briefing that the state should wait for the completion of a study expected to show what exactly the construction needs are for the state’s schools.

Mattiello said that there is still funding in the budget for school construction needs, as Raimondo had also proposed an $80 million appropriation for construction and renovation, including of $9.1 million for the school building authority -- but the dedicated bond question that would have increased resources by 50% -- was off the table in the House Finance budget. 

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Smokers and Mini-Marts

After years of steady increases in the state’s cigarette tax, smokers got a reprieve in House Budget when the committee rejected Raimondo’s proposal to raise the cigarette tax twenty-five cents from $3.75 to $4 a pack.

Make no mistake about it, this is just as much about the convenience stores not wanting the additional tax on their golden goose -  and New England Convenience Store Association lobbyist Brian Goldman just got vetted by Senate Judiciary for his nomination from Raimondo to replace Associate Judge Frank Cenerini, who retired in October 2014.

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Raimondo’s Minimum Wage Hike

Governor Raimondo once again pushed for an increase in the state’s minimum wage, and it appears she will be once again denied by the legislature.

Speaker Mattiello said that Raimondo’s effort to boost the minimum wage from $9.60 to $10.10 an hour would be a no-go. So while it falls in the loss category for those who were pushing for it, it could have been labeled as a win for business owners who have said they couldn’t incur such a mandatory increase. 

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Retirees (Pensioners)

“We are giving pension relief to everyone who receives some type of pension income, whether it’s public employees, private, or veterans,” said Mattiello.

Mattiello noted that the tax deduction “will be income tested, [and] you have to be Social Security age to qualify.” The tax exemption is slated to apply to the first $15,000 in retirement income, for those qualifying individuals with incomes of $80,000 or less, and couples up to $100,000.

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Solar and Wind

While the removal of Article 18 was championed as a win against crony capitalism, there was more at stake than just one developer with strong political ties.  While the article appeared as of Tuesday looked to be gone from the budget, that did not mean the legislative proposal could not stand alone. EcoRI was quick to point out however all that the article did for provide for a number alternative energy incentives including: 
Article 18...would allow loans for projects using net metering and virtual net metering, as well as those priced through the Renewable Energy Growth Program.

Article 18 also includes a five-year extension of the state Renewable Energy Fund, which provides grants for small- and medium-sized solar projects. The funds are collected through a monthly surcharge on electric bills and the pool of funds, currently about $6 million, is distributed to solar developers and installers through the Rhode Island Commerce Corporation.

Article 18 also exempts residential and commercial manufacturers from paying local property taxes. It also establishes a statewide property tax rate for commercial renewable-energy systems. The new tax rate will be determined by the Office of Energy Resources.

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Beach Visitors

Beachgoers get a win.

Everyone who loves the beach gets a win with the the House budget. Speaker Mattiello touting that “beach fees are reduced to the 2011 level” for the coming year.

A season pass for residents would be slashed from $60 to $30, non-residents from $120 to $60, and Rhode Island senior citizens from $30 to $15. Plus,  one-time entrance fees would be lowered for residents from $10 to $6 (and senior citizens, down to $3).


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