Access to a consistent, reliable and ample supply of water is one of the most essential services for a functioning community. Unfortunately, residents of Aboite Township in our area have continually faced unsatisfactory water services from private utility company, Aqua Indiana. Insufficient supply, severely low water pressure and unwarranted rate hikes have plagued Aqua customers for too long, and this summer it became necessary to intervene.
In July, I urged the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission (IRUC) to launch an immediate investigation into the company's shortcomings. At that point, Aqua had already been forced to connect to the City of Fort Wayne's water lines, and I wanted to be sure Aqua remained connected to the city lines until their customers were no longer under threat of inadequate water supply or pressure.
Last week, the IURC released the initial recommendations from the neutral investigator that was hired to review Aqua Indiana's problems with its service to Aboite customers. It is important for the public to understand this was only Phase I of a two-part report, and that the bulk of the report — along with its corresponding recommendations — is expected to be released sometime next month.
The Phase I report dealt only with the issue of Aqua remaining connected to the city of Fort Wayne's water system. Phase II will deal with the investigator's findings as to why Aqua's water system has had so many problems, including the significant loss of pressure throughout its system this summer as well as an apparently deficient water supply.
The report recommended that Aqua should disconnect from the city's water system and cited several reasons for that. First, the drought is clearly over. Second, water usage is dramatically lower this time of year and will remain so into next spring. Third, Aqua drilled a new well that is helping, at least for now, with additional water supply. Fourth, and perhaps most important, the two water systems — Aqua Indiana and the city of Ft. Wayne — are apparently not compatible. One system utilizes chlorine gas to disinfect its water supply, while the other uses chlorine bleach. Therefore, the two supplies cannot be mixed or there would be a genuine risk of unsafe drinking water. Also, and importantly, the investigator noted that the water pressure from the City is inadequate if only connected to this one portion of the Aboite system, running the risk of an inability to supply enough water to fight a large fire.
Because of the inability to mix the two water supplies, only one area of Aboite was connected to the city system, and this area was provided with 100 percent city water. This was a portion of the service area roughly bounded by Hadley Road on the east side, Scott Road on the west side, Highway 14 on the south side and Bass Road on the north side. The investigator found that the water pressure from the city is inadequate if only connected to this one portion of the Aboite system, running the risk of an inability to supply enough water to fight a large fire.
The investigator did state that Aqua Indiana should be ordered to reconnect to the city's system next summer, if water pressure and water supply issues occur once again. Based upon this recommendation, the IURC ruled that Aqua Indiana may, for the time being, disconnect from the city of Fort Wayne's water system.
Here are my concerns after this initial finding on the Phase I report:
1.If Aqua needs to reconnect to the city's water supply next summer, then the water pressure problems associated with the city's water must be resolved. The IURC must, in my opinion, issue an order that ensures both an adequate supply of water for the Aboite area as well as adequate water pressure to deal with any potential fire hazard.
2.Aqua Indiana does not appear to have a sufficient supply of water to deal with the needs of the Aboite area. Aboite is a modern, growing suburban area. I will ask the IURC to maintain a vigilant, ongoing oversight of Aqua's system to ensure that this utility invests the necessary money to fix this problem. Drilling more wells? Selling its water system to the city of Ft. Wayne? Whatever the ultimate answer, Aqua will, in my opinion, need public scrutiny and the power of the IURC to make certain that it follows through with the necessary improvements.
3.Aqua clearly has water pressure issues. Whatever the solution is (a new water tower, new pumps, etc.), the IURC needs to ride hard on this problem as well. The citizens of Aboite need to know that their water supply is adequate, safe and sufficient. This isn't just a quality of life issue; this is a public safety issue.
4.Finally, Aqua's Aboite customers have suffered from significant rate increases in recent years, without a corresponding improvement in service. Whatever improvements are ordered by the IURC to be made, those improvements should be on the utility's nickel, and the customers should not have to pay for them.
I look forward to the special investigator's Phase II findings and to a resolution of Aqua Indiana's continuing water supply and water pressure issues. I plan to remain involved and engaged throughout the next year as this matter plays out, and I encourage all of Aboite's Aqua Indiana customers to do the same.