INDIANAPOLIS – State utility regulators are calling for Aqua Indiana to remain connected to Fort Wayne’s water system, and to address water pressure and related concerns at a public hearing July 13.
The order came just hours after Senate President Pro Tem David Long sent a letter to the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission expressing concerns.
The commission responded with a letter to Aqua Indiana saying other customers have complained as well, including a surgery center that had to delay operations.
“Although the commission and I are well aware the current drought conditions have created difficult circumstances for water utilities throughout the state, the issues concerning Aqua Indiana merit immediate attention,” the letter to Aqua Indiana said.
IURC Chairman Jim Atterholt also noted it is expected Aqua Indiana’s “voluntarily cooperation” to ensure public safety and welfare is not compromised rather than having the commission convene a formal investigation and issue an emergency order.
The public hearing on Aqua Indiana’s water pressure problem and current infrastructure is set for 10 a.m. July 13 in Indianapolis, though it will be live-streamed.
Aqua Indiana President Tom Bruns on Tuesday addressed the move by the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission to scrutinize its recent water pressure problems.
“We were a little surprised but we are very happy about what we did this summer and the response to the drought,” he said. “We think once the commission hears that they will be comfortable with the situation.”
He said the company will attend the July 13 public hearing i to provide information and discuss the issue.
Bruns also said when Aqua Indiana decided to tap into Fort Wayne City Utilities last month it expected to stay on for some time given the changing of the valves, state permitting and customer notification issues.
He said based on summer weather Aqua Indiana will probably remain connected for the entire month of July.
Long’s letter earlier in the day asked the IURC to open an investigation into Aqua Indiana’s recent water pressure problems. The letter said if the study finds the utility must make improvements, the cost should not be borne by customers, who have already experienced two major rate hikes.
“The customers of Aqua Indiana have been paying exorbitant rates for their water and sewer services,” Long said. “They should not have to shell out once again in order to fix problems that should have been handled long ago.”
Aqua Indiana began buying water from Fort Wayne City Utilities June 21 to provide adequate water pressure for the private utility’s customers.
While only 1,400 Aqua Indiana customers switched to city water the move was intended to improve service for all customers by freeing capacity in its pipes.
The IURC letter to Aqua Indiana said it wants the utility to commit that it will not disconnect from the city of Fort Wayne until the commission is satisfied that the water pressure problem has been adequately addressed.
Several weeks ago Bill Etzler, regional vice president for Aqua Indiana, said he didn’t believe the troubles with the private system were indicative of any serious problems.
Instead, he blamed extreme circumstances for causing Aqua Indiana to seek city assistance, and said the private utility has ample water supplies in its wells but the high demand has taxed its distribution system.
Long – a longtime Aqua Indiana customer who lives in the area still getting water from the private utility – fears the company might have to build another water tower.
His letter to Atterholt asked that the regulators determine the cause of recent water pressure problems; make sure the water supply is adequate and order Aqua Indiana to remain connected to Fort Wayne City Utilities until the IURC is satisfied customers aren’t under the threat of inadequate water pressure.
Long conceded the drought conditions but said, “most, if not all of the other water utilities in Indiana have faced similar problems, and to my knowledge, none have been on the verge of having their water system fail.”