IURC Questions Aqua Indiana at Hearing

By Max Resnik

July 13, 2012 Updated Jul 13, 2012 at 5:33 PM EDT

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (Indiana’s NewsCenter) – In a public hearing with the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission, Aqua Indiana’s president points to continual lawn watering and irrigation as the catalyst of water pressure issues for customers amid the drought.

Aqua Indiana President Tom Bruns says excessive heat and periods of dryness dating back to mid-May have plagued the water utility, which serves 35,000 to 36,000 customers in Northeast Indiana. The majority of those, about 25,000 customers, are located in Aboite Township.

Bruns told the IURC Friday afternoon that the most significant day for water pressure issues was June 18, when a “perfect storm” occurred. Dry, hot weather, coupled with a water main break in the early morning hours, led to significant water pressure issues for customers.

In response to water pressure issues, approximately 1,250 Aqua Indiana customers were hooked up to Fort Wayne City Utilities on Thursday, June 21. In Friday’s public hearing, Bruns called the connection a “good insurance policy,” and said Aqua could remain connected to the City of Fort Wayne for the foreseeable future.

Bruns said Aqua wants to utilize a well on their property that can connect with the Chestnut Hills facility to ease some of the water pressure concerns. He said that move has been held up by an elderly couple whose property sits next to the well. The couple’s property is important because an easement would have to be put there in order to prevent contamination. Aqua said they have tried working with the couple to secure this piece of land, but in the past, the couple has refused. The easement, according to Aqua, would be about 1/10 of an acre on a 20 acre piece of land belonging to the couple.

If they are able to reach an agreement and then hook up the well to Aqua's water supply system, the utility will be able to supply an extra 500,000 gallons of water per day to customers. Aqua, working with IDEM, plans to seek a permit to take possession of this part of the couple’s property through eminent domain. It will come at the cost of $125,000, according to Bruns. The costs include the easement, pumps, valves and motors to create the connection to the Chestnut Hills facility.

It is a cost Bruns referred to as a “prudent investment.” As it stands now, the cost would be to the company. It is expected to be opened within 30 days and is budgeted for 2013.

Bruns says that during peak days throughout the drought, Aqua has seen usage spike to 6.1 million – 6.2 million gallons per day. On average, the utility supplies about 3.2 million gallons each day.

Bruns was also questioned about a proposed water tower in southwest Fort Wayne that could store up to 1 million gallons of water. He said a down economy has prevented the construction of such a tower and said June demands for water were so high that it would not have made a difference.

In Indianapolis Friday, mandatory water bans begin, prohibiting lawn watering and irrigation systems. It is not clear if such bans will take place in Fort Wayne.

Fort Wayne Mayor Tom Henry (D) released the following statement following the hearing:

"I hope today is finally the beginning of an enduring solution to these longstanding issues of higher costs and lower quality water than residents of Fort Wayne City Utilities currently receive," said Mayor Tom Henry. "I will continue to advocate for the well-being of all Fort Wayne residents and their access to high-quality, affordable services. We want to ensure the safety and security of our community and to work together with Aqua to keep Fort Wayne a great place to live and the best place for job creation and business investment."

It is also unclear when the IURC will hand down a ruling on Aqua Indiana.

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