Mayor Henry letter to IURC regarding Aqua Indiana

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E-mail from City of Fort Wayne Public Information Officer Frank Suárez:

(July 13, 2012) – Continuing his fight for the residents in southwest Fort Wayne served by Aqua Indiana , Mayor Tom Henry told the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission (IURC) that it is long past time for the utility concerns of these residents to be fully addressed.

“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.”

Since taking office in 2008, Mayor Henry has aggressively worked to seek a solution to Aqua Indiana’s rising rates, lower quality water and low pressure. Last summer the Mayor met directly with residents in several neighborhoods served by Aqua Indiana.

The attached letter was submitted as testimony today, during a public meeting conducted by the IURC to investigate complaints about Aqua Indiana’s low water pressure and general service problems. Also attached is a note the Mayor submitted on behalf of Fire Chief Amy Biggs.

Mayor Henry’s letter to the IURC:

July 11, 2012

The Hon. James D. Atterholt, Chairman
Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission
101 West Washington Street, Suite 1500 East
Indianapolis, Indiana 46204-3407

Re: Aqua Indiana’s southwest Fort Wayne utility services

Dear Chairman Atterholt and Commissioners:

On behalf of the citizens of Fort Wayne, and in particular, the residents of southwest Fort Wayne, I thank you for conducting a public meeting to discuss the ongoing water service problems that have challenged Aqua Indiana.

For many years, residents of southwest Fort Wayne have expressed their frustrations to me about the cost and quality of the water they receive from Aqua Indiana. Over the past few years, we have received petitions from more than 20 neighborhoods representing over 2,000 households in the Aqua Indiana service area, asking to be switched to Fort Wayne City Utility services. Additionally, over 40 different neighborhoods have contacted us expressing displeasure at Aqua Indiana’s rates and service levels, and interest in switching to City Utilities services. As Mayor, their concerns are my concerns, as 70 percent of Aqua customers live within the City of Fort Wayne.

Since I became Mayor five years ago, I have consistently advocated for Aqua Indiana to provide better service while containing costs. I believe that all residents of Fort Wayne deserve high-quality, dependable utility services at fair, competitive prices. As a matter of public safety, it is imperative that all Fort Wayne residents can rely upon adequate water supplies and pressure to meet any firefighting needs. (See attached note from our Fire Chief Amy Biggs)

I have directed Fort Wayne City Utilities to work with Aqua staff in helping them find solutions to residents’ concerns. In recent months, there has been some progress, but many Aqua customers and I remain concerned a remedy is not coming quickly enough. The rate hikes in the last three years, and recent pressure and supply issues have magnified their concerns and it’s time for their voices to be heard.

Currently, City Utilities is providing hundreds of thousands of gallons of water a day to customers of Aqua Indiana in southwest Fort Wayne. I pledge to keep the agreement in place for as long as Aqua customers need this resource. Furthermore, Fort Wayne is open to expanding this arrangement and making it permanent.

As you are aware, this is not the first time that Fort Wayne City Utilities has been called upon to safeguard its residents’ water service. In 1998, when Aqua (then known as the Utility Center, Inc.) faced similar catastrophic water shortages, City Utilities established system interconnections that stayed in use until 2002. Before it was allowed to close those water supply connections, Aqua Indiana was required by you to plan and prepare better and invest in infrastructure to address its shortcomings. These safeguards remained as the system changed ownership to AquaSource, when Aqua Indiana’s management stated they had completed upgrades to their system and had no need of water resources from the City.

Sadly, those efforts have not proven to be effective in the long term or may not have been fully implemented. Since then, Aqua Indiana has again become lax in their preparations and planning and continued to pass along higher rates for even more drinking water projects, when regional partnering or cooperative opportunities were available instead.

It is long past time for the utility concerns of southwest Fort Wayne residents to be fully addressed. I hope the meeting on July 13 will mark the beginning of an enduring solution to these longstanding issues. As Mayor, I will continue to advocate for the well-being of all Fort Wayne residents and their access to high-quality, affordable services. As a good neighbor, 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.

Again, I thank the IURC for holding an informational meeting to investigate this situation and gather community input.

Thank you for your consideration of these most important matters.

Sincerely yours,

Thomas C. Henry

And e-mail from Fort Wayne Fire Chief Amy Biggs:

From: Amy Biggs
Sent: Thursday, July 12, 2012 1:43 PM
To: Tom Henry
Subject: IURC letter

Greetings Mayor Henry,
As Fort Wayne’s Fire Chief, it is my duty to be vigilant about issues that could risk the protection of residents in our community.  This includes the impact of current drought conditions and how they might hamper our water supply needed for firefighting.  These conditions create the opportunity for fire to spread rapidly and ignite surrounding structures, which can quickly deplete resources.

Water is the single most important resource we have, as a fire department, to save lives and preserve property.  The ability to obtain a water source that is reliable and sustains adequate pressure to support fire ground operations is crucial to our mission.  Every second that passes without this resource endangers lives of firefighters and residents and causes significant property damages.
Aqua Indiana, which serves Southwest Fort Wayne residents, is experiencing a shortage of water.  Seventy percent of its customers are in the Fort Wayne city limits.  The company recently called for consumer conservation — but still found it was falling short in efforts to keep up with the demand for water.  This concerns me greatly.

During the past several weeks, residents have experienced low water pressure in their homes — so low in fact, that recent news reports told the story of residents who didn’t even have enough pressure to wash the shampoo out of their hair, while showering.

Finally, the company asked for assistance from Fort Wayne City Utilities to supply water, which would allow for an increase in pressure and the ability to meet customer demands.

I understand how the arid conditions can affect a water utility, as we are currently dealing with a burn ban in Fort Wayne.  But, I’m glad Aqua finally reached out and asked for water from City Utilities, because, while we have plans for mutual aid from neighboring fire departments and certainly plan for additional tanker trucks in such situations, the lack of pressure caused by Aqua’s water shortage, was a real concern for the Fire Department.

The Aqua service area in Fort Wayne has many large homes, and as you know, many of them have families with children living in them, as well as several large apartment complexes, hotels, medical facilities and nursing homes. Good, strong water pressure is essential and critical to our fire protection in Southwest Fort Wayne.

Because of these safety concerns, I’m hoping they will continue to keep the lines open for City Utilities to supply Aqua with water in the immediate future, while searching for a long-term solution to prevent this situation from recurring in the future.

I appreciate your dedication and commitment to resolving this issue.


Amy Biggs
Fire Chief
City of Fort Wayne

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