ROCKPORT, Maine — A $7.2 million water filtration project concluded this week will soon provide several Knox County towns with water that has less chlorine in it, according to Aqua Maine officials.
At the same time, however, the residents of the seven towns served by the water system will end up paying about 21 percent more.
Rick Knowlton, vice president of Aqua Maine, said users of the water system might not notice a difference in the first couple of weeks, but that after a two weeks or so, they might smell and taste less chlorine in their tap water.
Knowlton said the federal Environmental Protection Agency required a change in the old system of chemically treating the water drawn from Mirror Lake in Rockport. Aqua Maine chose a membrane filtration system to replace the old system, which serves the towns of Rockland, Camden, Thomaston, Rockport, Owls Head, Warren and Union.
“Envision the membrane like a sponge. It is a thin wall of very sophisticated fabric — for lack of a better word — that has microscopic pore openings. With a pump we are going to push water through one side of that fabric. It will force the water to permeate that membrane and come out the other side. It will leave anything else on the other side,” Knowlton said Friday.
So far, there have been no major issues with the new system. Knowlton said his company temporarily would continue to chlorinate as it did before, just to be safe. When the company is sure it is safe to start decreasing the level of chemicals used in treating the water, Knowlton said there should be up to a 30 percent decrease in chlorine use.
“We can make the water taste better. For some people the water will smell better,” he said.
The water will be more consistent year-round too, he said. More biological activity happens in the summer and fall when the water is warm, which leads Aqua Maine to chlorinate more heavily than in the winter when the lake is protected by ice.
Customers also will notice a change in the fee structure and their bills.
The company got permission from the Maine Public Utilities Commission to raise its rates 20.95 percent overall to help pay for the $7.2 million investment in the new filtration system.
Although the rate hike, which became effective Aug. 1, represents an average 20.95 percent increase overall, the amount will vary from person to person. The fees will range based on use, but people could see anywhere from an 8 percent to a 30 percent increase in water bills, Knowlton said.
Previously, the average residential customer paid $73.30 every three months for an average use of 110 gallons of water a day, he said. The average bill per quarter now is expected to be $93.23.
Back in April, when municipalities were bracing for the rate hike, then expected to be about 24 percent, the city of Rockland budgeted an increase of nearly $95,000 more for municipal water costs.
Since then, however, Rockland’s attorney — and a few other interested parties — were able to work with the Maine Public Utilities Commission to lower Aqua Maine’s proposed rate increase to the 20.95 percent overall hike.
Rockland’s attorney Kevin Beal said Friday that it is typical for the city to intervene in such matters.
“They were proposing a 24 percent increase, which is a significant burden for the city,” Beal said.
Water bills with the new rates are expected to go out at the end of the month.