By Breana Pitts

LEICESTER (CBS) – It’s that time of year when lawns across the state are thirsty for water and in Massachusetts many people are already struggling to afford their increasing water bills.

Experts call it a crisis and if something doesn’t change, those bills will only go higher.

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Ron Martin lives in the Leicester village of Cherry Valley which has some of the highest rates in the state. Last summer his bill went up 50-percent.

“Our monthly bills went basically from $200 a month to about $300 a month,” he told WBZ-TV. “You try to take quick showers. We bought a front load energy efficient washer.”

Martin also uses rain barrels to collect the runoff from his gutters to water his garden.

“You have to be a lot more efficient with your water, unless you want to pay the higher bills.”

At Eller’s Restaurant, the bills are ten times what Martin is paying.

“That’s raises I could give. That’s equipment I could buy for the restaurant,” Jeff Eller told WBZ

The problem is rising operating costs and debt payments for the town’s sewer system.

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“We all have the same dilemma of pipes in the ground that were put in during the Civil War that are failing,” said Philip Guerin, the Director of Water and Sewer Operations in Worcester.

They are often to blame for water main breaks you see all over the state. Guerin said the federal government isn’t pitching in to help pay the way it used to.

“There’s no more of that grant money at all.” he said. “People have to realize these costs are going to go up.”

Conservation isn’t a magic fix. When communities restrict lawn watering during droughts customers pay less, so there’s less revenue for the water department.

“So whatever they may have saved on not watering the their lawn, they may end up paying the next year in just the increased rate,” Guerin said.

“This does have a domino effect on the amount of disposal income you have and how you spend it,” Martin told WBZ.

“The first thing that’s going to get cut back is things that they do with their discretionary income, which is how I make a living,” said Eller.

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The Biden Administration’s proposed infrastructure bill includes $56 billion in grants and loans to help communities pay for these water improvements. Without that help, experts say ratepayers will pay the bulk of the rising costs.

Breana Pitts