Thirteen Aqua Pa. water customers approached the Public Utility Commission (PUC) representatives, Wednesday in Honesdale, over the question of raising the rates.

PUC Judge Angela Jones took testimony, as well as containers of dirty water. Monique Lautenschlager, who brought one of the containers, also showed them towels she said were stained by the Honesdale water.


Thirteen Aqua Pa. water customers approached the Public Utility Commission (PUC) representatives, Wednesday in Honesdale, over the question of raising the rates.
PUC Judge Angela Jones took testimony, as well as containers of dirty water. Monique Lautenschlager, who brought one of the containers, also showed them towels she said were stained by the Honesdale water.
She said that since Aqua Pennsylvania Inc. purchased Honesdale Consolidated Water Company in Sept. 2008, the promised improvement to the water hasn’t occurred. “To date, the water quality has become worse. We are already paying exorbitant prices for water we don’t dare to drink or use to clean fruits and vegetables to cook them,” she said. “We buy bottled water to do that.”
Aqua Pa. filed with the PUC last November for a rate increase of $53.79 a month (from $48.28), for most of its water systems, in what they refer to as the “main division.” These include Hawley and Waymart’s systems. Because Honesdale’s system was purchased only recently, a more gradual increase is being requested. If approved in full by the PUC, the Honesdale rate would be $39.20 a month (up from $29.46). This is based on 4,200 gallons used a month; actual rates vary on meter readings.
Others questioned the fairness of seeking equity of rates across the 99 Aqua public water systems in the state. Aqua Pa., a part of Aqua America,  serves more than 1.4 million residents in 30 Pennsylvania counties. Many are in the suburban Philadelphia region. Mary Louise Bishop of Waymart  stressed that the average income in Wayne County is lower than in the southeast corner, and therefore, are rates should not be as high.
On display at the hearing were deteriorated cast iron pipes that have been dug from below the surface of Honesdale. Well over 100 years old, the pipes frequently break. Aqua Pa. has invested $1.5 million in capital improvements since the purchase 18 months ago.  The company is planning another $4.2 million in improvements in 2010 including $3.8 million to replace cast iron pipes with PVC, and $500,000 to resolve a hydrogen sulfide odor issue at the Weidner well.
Honesdale resident Ed Daniels said that he has lived in town since around 1986, and has gone through three filtration systems. He was replacing filters every few months and gave up on it. Now he buys bottled water.
“Last summer I poured water to make ice tea but the water was already the color of tea, well brewed,” Daniels said. Having complained to Aqua, he said that he always hear that the reason for the discoloration is that they are flushing the lines. “It’s the same old story,” he stated, adding that when he hears of a proposed rate hike, “it makes us inflamed.”
A physician assistant, he stated that he goes through two or three white lab coats a year because of the “dingy gray” color the Honesdale water gives them. He too wondered why Aqua would buy such a system.
Honesdale Fire Chief Stan Pratt commended Aqua Pa. for efforts seen to improve the water lines, which have already improved the flow capability of the hydrants. This became a serious issue at a major house fire on East Street, in 2008. He said he understood that Aqua needs to pay for the work, but hopefully the costs borne by the customers would not be all at once. Mayor Jonathan Fritz also asked that any increase in rates be gradual.
The PUC has nine months to decide on the rate application from the date of filing.

Missed the hearing?
The Public Utility Commission (PUC) has scheduled a telephonic hearing on March 8 at 2 p.m., for anyone wishing to offer testimony on the Aqua Pennsylvania rate request.
This is primarily for Aqua customers in the northwest region of the state, far from scheduled in-person public hearings, but any Aqua customer may participate. To register for this phone hearing, contact the Pa. Office of Consumer Advocate (OCA) at 1-800-684-6560 by 5 p.m. on Tuesday, March 2. Consumers signing up to testify by phone will receive additional instructions from the OCA.
Another public hearing is  planned Wed., March 3 at 1 p.m., at the Radnor Township Building, 301 Iven Ave., Radnor, PA.