For too long, residents of southwest Allen County have received substandard water services from the privately-operated utility company, Aqua Indiana. Poor water quality, rate hikes and severely low water pressure have left many Fort Wayne area residents – including myself – questioning whether Aqua Indiana is capable of adequately providing water to its customers.
Homeowners and local businesses have issued complaints about Aqua Indiana's poor water quality and pressure for some time, but the utility provider's recent failure to address community needs during the prolonged drought has brought these concerns to a head.
Early in June as the drought was starting to intensify, the company urged customers to cut back on water usage, and soon after issued an indefinite ban on watering lawns and other unnecessary uses of water. Despite these conservation efforts, water pressure was still unacceptably low and the company feared there would not be enough water reserves available should emergency situations arise. During this time, a water main break only exacerbated the company's water flow problems.
Week or so ago, Aqua Indiana was forced to tap into the City of Fort Wayne's water supply after another water main and water pump were both damaged. City water finally began to flow to Aqua Indiana customers on June 21, but only after a faulty valve was discovered, delaying the original start day.
Unanticipated drought certainly puts pressure on all water utility companies, but the problems experienced with Aqua Indiana's system seem unique. Most of our state is experiencing the same excessive heat and lack of rainfall as Allen County, but no other utility company, to my knowledge, is on the verge of having its water system crash for lack of pressure.
It is also important to note that Aqua Indiana's shortcomings resulted even after the company increased water rates twice, more than doubling the cost of services to customers. A key argument made by Aqua in support of these increases was its plan to improve water service to its customers. Clearly, the opposite has happened.
Earlier last week, I sent a letter to James Atterholt, the chairman of the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission (IURC) calling for an immediate investigation into the water problems homeowners in our area are facing, including severe loss of water pressure.
As part of the inquiry, I asked the IURC to determine if the water pressure problems stem from an inadequate water supply, a lack of investment in infrastructure, or both. In addition, I asked them to determine what improvements are required to avoid these issues in the future.
Most importantly, I urged the IURC to ensure that the costs of any improvements not be borne by Aqua's customers, but instead by the utility's owners, who should have fixed these issues long ago.
In response to my letter, the IURC scheduled a public hearing on July 13 in Indianapolis to discuss current inadequacies in water service and Aqua Indiana's plan going forward. In the meantime, they've assured customers that Aqua Indiana will remain connected to Fort Wayne's water supply.