Aqua Maine seeks water rate increase

Posted May 12, 2009, at 11:56 p.m.

ROCKPORT, Maine — A proposed water rate hike may cause residential and business customers of Aqua Maine Inc.’s Camden and Rockland Division to pay 7 percent more for their drinking water.

The water utility filed a rate increase request last week with the Maine Public Utilities Commission, and a decision likely will be made by the end of the year, a company official said Tuesday.

“This is a very difficult economic time to be raising rates for any reason,” Rick Knowlton, vice president of operations, said. “We’re very sensitive to that. We also have to make sure we have adequate revenue to provide the service and to make sure the water’s on every day.”

The company serves 7,700 customers in Rockland, Camden, Rockport, Thomaston, Owls Head, Warren and Union who already are paying rates that are above average for Maine, Knowlton said. If the increase is granted, the average quarterly bill for a customer who uses 1,800 cubic feet of water would be $87, or about $29 per month. It’s an increase of $6.07 per quarter or 7 cents a day. According to Aqua Maine figures, residential customers will pay less than a penny per gallon for drinking water.

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The increase may make some consumers be more “water wise,” said Terry Pinto, head of Rockland’s wastewater treatment department.

“It’s a big jump for fresh water, but it’s pretty inexpensive when you think about it,” Pinto said. “The main thing that is the difference between civilized organizations and Third World companies is their quality of drinking water. And it’s an inexpensive price to pay to be healthy.”

Pinto said that the PUC approval process is vigorous, and will include a consideration of the amount of profit that Aqua Maine should be allowed to make.

According to Knowlton, the increase is needed because of capital improvements undertaken since 2007. The company now is completing construction of a $1 million, 400,000-gallon water storage tank in Thomaston, which is replacing a tank that has been in service since 1927.

“It’s at the end of its useful life, and we couldn’t afford to maintain it anymore,” Knowlton said.

The company also sees more expenditures in the near future, as it begins a $7 million filtration addition to the Mirror Lake treatment facility in Rockport. That is the primary water source for the region. Grassy Pond in Rockport is another source.

The lake water now is unfiltered, but new federal and state drinking water regulations will put a stop to that soon.

“A lot of water districts don’t filter in Maine,” Knowlton said. “It reflects the fact that we have such wonderful, clean water.”


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