FORT WAYNE – The water link between Aqua Indiana and Fort Wayne City Utilities should be a permanent partnership to ensure good water service for the customers of the private utility, according to the city councilman who represents that area.
Councilman Mitch Harper, R-4th, said the drop in water pressure Aqua Indiana experienced is not just inconvenient for residents but also presents a public safety concern regarding fire protection. Harper is a customer of the private utility and represents the Aboite Township residents who live in Fort Wayne.
City Utilities began providing water to about 1,400 Aqua Indiana customers Thursday afternoon after a broken valve caused almost a full-days delay in providing relief to the private utility.
While only a fraction of Aqua Indianas 12,000 water customers will get city water, the switch is intended to improve service for all customers by freeing capacity in its pipes.
Harper said it makes sense for the city to make water available to Aqua Indiana when needed. In return, the private utility should pay a monthly fee, like a retainer, for that availability.
Bill Etzler, regional vice president for Aqua Indiana, said he didnt believe the problems with the private system were indicative of any serious problems. Instead, he blamed extreme circumstances for causing Aqua Indiana to seek city assistance.
This has never happened in the history of the utility, Etzler said. This is just a very, very unusual weather pattern for us.
The city last provided water to the private utility – then known as Utility Center – in 1998 when the state ordered it to connect to the city after water shortages in Aboite Township.
The private utility has ample water supplies in its wells, Etzler said, but the high demand has taxed its distribution system. City Utilities, which draws its drinking water from the St. Joseph River, has more than enough water for its customers and could provide up to 1 million gallons a day to the private company, according to city officials.
Etzler and other Aqua Indiana officials Wednesday partly blamed the drop in water supply on increasing water demands despite the utilitys pleas for customers to reduce water use. On Tuesday, it asked residents not to water their lawns, wash vehicles or other unnecessary activities.
Etzler even said he was disappointed customers werent doing more to cut usage to help others.
These comments drew strong criticism from customers who contacted The Journal Gazette to express complaints and displeasure with the private utility.
Penny Henshaw, of Abbey Place, said there are brown yards all through her neighborhood.
I just get upset that he (Etzler) puts it on everybodys shoulder other than his own, he said. I really do think Aqua has a bigger problem than they are letting out.
Neighborhoods targeted to receive city water from the temporary connection are Shorewood, Abbey Place, Walnut Creek, Whispering Meadows, Falls of Beaver Creek and Brenton Glens.
Greg Bell, of Shady Creek Court, said he only learned about the request to curtail water use by reading Wednesdays Journal Gazette, which didnt seem to be enough time for people to take serious actions to reduce water consumption.
How does he expect curtailment when his customers never hear from them, Bell said. My frustration is with Mr. Etzler of Aqua Indiana for his quote essentially blaming the customer for his problem.
Etzler said the company received more than 100 complaints about water pressure Monday, the day after the utility experienced a pump break.
On Thursday, city officials would not specifically state whether the situation with Aqua Indiana would lead to more discussions between the utilities for partnerships or a possible takeover.
We look forward to continuing our productive talks with Aqua Indiana about ways to ensure a reliable supply of water for all residents in the Fort Wayne area, City Utilities Director Kumar Menon said in a prepared statement.
Harper, who has also heard numerous complaints about the utility recently, said the temporary solution could only lead to more people being interested in such an agreement.
I think its going to be exposing more people to city water, the reliability, the quality and the benefits, he said. Folks will be even more adamant there needs to be a solution that is adequate.
Etzler said the hookup to City Utilities would last indefinitely.