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Taking over Aqua about health, safety

As mayor, I’m committed to providing residents with outstanding services and the best quality of life possible.

One of our tremendous community assets is Fort Wayne City Utilities. Our nationally recognized water utility provides reliable and high-quality water at an affordable price.

There are 12,000 Aqua Indiana water customers in and near southwest Fort Wayne who need and deserve to receive city water.

Since taking office in 2008, I have been committed to finding a solution to water challenges faced by Aqua customers.

The city has done everything it can to reach an agreement with Aqua. To this point, the city and Aqua have not been able to agree on a better future of water service in southwest Fort Wayne. As a result, I recently announced the city is moving forward to condemn Aqua’s water utility. We have been patient, but now is the time to take action.

This is about public health and public safety. Those issues cannot be compromised. We must ensure that residents and public safety officials have access to a water supply that is reliable and has adequate reserve capacity to meet the water pressure demands of our growing community.

A recent independent audit completed at the request of the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission was not favorable toward Aqua. Aqua’s decision regarding fire protection was declared to be unacceptable.

In addition, Aqua’s master planning was again declared to be inadequate. The recommendations in the audit can be accomplished with City Utilities as the owner/operator of Aqua’s system or by the city working collaboratively with Aqua. Aqua certainly cannot be successful on its own any longer.

My concerns about Aqua’s inability to meet water demands during this past summer’s drought and its lack of a suitable plan to meet the current and long-term needs of customers were verified by the audit.

During this past summer’s drought, City Utilities assisted Aqua by providing water to approximately 1,300 customers due to Aqua’s inability to meet water needs and demands. Assistance from City Utilities might be necessary again if peak demands experienced this past summer return again next year. Many of those customers were recently surveyed by City Utilities and gave high praise for the city’s quality of water, taste and water pressure and 91 percent were supportive of efforts to receive water from the city on a permanent basis. To date, more than 20 different neighborhood associations served by Aqua have separately submitted petitions requesting a change to City Utilities.

By switching to water service provided by City Utilities, the average Aqua customer in southwest Fort Wayne would save $160 to $220 annually based on current and projected rates. Previous Aqua customers in northern Fort Wayne, transferred to City Utilities in 2008, have saved an average of more than $2,000 since the transition.

Many customers have told us they no longer need water softeners or other devices which increases their savings.

Today, an ordinance to begin the condemnation process will be introduced to City Council. Initial discussions could occur at City Council’s meeting Dec. 18. Even though condemnation will be pursued, we will continue to be open to negotiations with Aqua in efforts to reach an agreement. I will continue to fight for residents so they can receive the water they have asked for and deserve.

Tom Henry is mayor of Fort Wayne. He wrote this for The Journal Gazette.

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