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Posted on Sat. Dec. 01, 2012 - 12:17 am EDT

State orders connections to link Aqua Indiana, city

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•The Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission will continue to monitor the adequacy and reliability of the Aqua Indiana system, officials said, especially as it relates to the customers previously affected in Aboite Township. If customers experience service-related issues with the utility, they can contact the IURC’s Consumer Affairs Division at 800-851-4268.

FORT WAYNE — Aqua Indiana must make changes to allow more connections to the city of Fort Wayne’s water supply, according to a state report released Friday.

The Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission issued the second and final phase of the audit it ordered this summer after a severe drought sapped water supplies for the 12,000 people Aqua Indiana serves in southwest Fort Wayne.

Water supplies – hit by the drought, a well that wasn’t working and record demand – reached the point where about 1,200 Aqua Indiana customers were connected to Fort Wayne’s City Utilities. The two systems can be connected in multiple locations, but because of different disinfection methods used, the two waters cannot be mixed.

The IURC said Aqua must either change disinfecting methods so the waters can be mixed or make changes to allow more areas to be isolated so they can use City Utilities water.

The connections between the two must also be improved so there is no loss of fire protection in the isolated areas.

Aqua Indiana officials said the report shows their reaction to the drought met industry standards.

“We’re pleased with it,” Aqua Indiana President Tom Bruns said. “Many things (suggested) in there are already works in progress.”

City officials said they wanted to make more connections to serve Aqua’s customers, but the company refused.

“One of our biggest disagreements this summer was there are three existing connections and we offered more or to enhance the existing connections,” said City Utilities’ Ted Nitza. “It was Aqua Indiana’s choice to limit the Fort Wayne supply to one connection point to one isolated area.”

But because there was only one, 6-inch metered connection, the audit said there was a potential fire risk in that area.

“This is unacceptable and poses a concern for our agency,” IURC Chairman James Atterholt said in a letter to Bruns.

Bruns said Aqua Indiana officials prefer making changes that allow more areas to be isolated and served by City Utilities rather than changing disinfection methods, which would be too expensive.

“We think it’s much better to isolate the zones and not mix waters,” Bruns said. “We’ll be zoning off the area differently than we did in 2012 and developing a contingency plan.”

Two weeks ago, Mayor Tom Henry announced the city will attempt to forcibly take over Aqua Indiana through the condemnation process, citing water-pressure and water-quality issues. City officials Friday said the report reinforces their contention.

“The biggest, overriding factor is it is clear now that City Utilities owning and operating those facilities directly or working in collaboration with Aqua Indiana is much more cost-effective, gives better quality, better fire protection for the citizens than Aqua Indiana attempting to continue doing it on their own,” Nitza said.

But Aqua Indiana officials said nothing in the report backs the city’s assertion.

“We’re very hopeful we can find ways to work with Fort Wayne both short term and long term,” Bruns said. “I don’t think the report finds anything of significant consequences that … justifies condemnation.”

City Councilman Mitch Harper, who represents the area served by Aqua Indiana, also praised the report.

“I applaud the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission and Chairman Atterholt, in particular, for the manner so far in which the Commission has addressed the serious issues surrounding the period of inadequate water pressure affecting citizens in the 4th District,” Harper said in a statement. “When the public’s safety is compromised, under whatever circumstances, it is a matter of grave concern.”

Aqua Indiana has until Oct. 1 to complete and submit a new master plan to the IURC.

The utility also must identify and implement a solution by May 1 to address fire protection risks related to interconnection.

The commission also called on the city and county to adopt water conservation ordinances to address periods of severe drought or equipment problems.

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