Aqua President Addresses Utility’s Status

By Scott Sarvay
By Max Resnik

July 30, 2012 Updated Jul 30, 2012 at 6:02 PM EDT

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (Indiana's NewsCenter) – The president of Aqua Indiana says the utility, which sat before the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission in early July amid water pressure concerns, is ready to meet the long term needs of its customers.

As Aqua tries to appease customers and iron out details for improved service with the City of Fort Wayne, it is in the process of finding a third party independent consulting firm to examine the practices used by Aqua in mid-June. It was at that time that Aqua Indiana President Tom Bruns says the utility encountered a “perfect storm” of events comprised of the drought, a water main break and increased demand for water.

“The commission’s charge to the auditor is geared towards largely looking at how Aqua responded during this summer drought period, the question of whether the connection to the City of Fort Wayne can be removed at some time in the near future and whether the new 500,000 gallon per day well is an adequate replacement for that connection."

Bruns announced during the IURC hearing that a well near the Chestnut Hills facility, formerly used for testing and once intended to come online in 2013, will begin pumping water in August.

"The well will start being put under construction next week. We anticipate that—it's called well number 11—that well number 11 will be completed by the third week in August."

The well is expected to cost close to $125,000, with the cost eventually being passed on to customers in a future rate hearing.

Currently 1,250 Aqua Indiana customers are hooked up to Fort Wayne City Utilities. Bruns has referred to the connection with the city as a good insurance policy that could last at least one more month depending on the findings by the third party independent consultants.

Two weeks ago, Mayor Tom Henry (D) told Indiana’s NewsCenter that Aqua had reached its drop-dead date to come up with concrete solutions to address water pressure issues. Henry presented three long term solutions for Aqua:

First, he suggests a joint partnership between City Utilities and Aqua Indiana where the city would provide the water and Aqua Indiana would control the utility and its equipment. The second option is to buy out Aqua Indiana. The third, described as a last resort, is to condemn the utility to take it over through the court system.

“To move towards some type of condemnation of the facility based upon the fact that they are not meeting the requirements necessary for a utility to run, to provide good, quality water with adequate pressure at fair prices. And I think we could take that and make a case similar to what we did out north,” said Henry on July 17.

Burns says Indiana statutes are different today than they were five years ago when the City of Fort Wayne seized the north side’s utility provider. He says that not only is condemnation a last resort, he does not buy that it is an option.

"The statute that exists in Indiana today would make it much more difficult for Fort Wayne to condemn the system. We don't believe condemnation serves anyone well. It ends up involving lots of lawyers and burns up a lot of time. We'd like to see there be some mutual cooperation working to figure out what makes the most sense for that part of Allen County long term."

In the mean time, Aqua Indiana, the IURC, the City of Fort Wayne and Aqua customers will await the findings of the independent study of Aqua’s drought response. Those results are expected October 1.

Bruns says it could be six to 12 months before a long term solution is agreed upon with the City of Fort Wayne.

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