Aqua NC customers facing increasing rates

Thousands of North Carolinians may soon be paying more for
water utility bills.

The state's largest water utility, Aqua NC, plans to file
with state regulators for a rate increase in August. The filing will mark the
company's third rate increase request in five years.

Aqua serves customers that do not live near municipal water
supplies. The Philadelphia-based company has more than 80,000 customers and
covers more than half of the state.

Aqua NC President, Tom Roberts says it would be
“premature” to reveal how much of an increase customers will see when
the company seeks to recover about $25 million in infrastructure upgrades.

In 2011, the water utility requested a 19 percent increase,
and state regulators agreed to a 5 percent increase.

Roberts said the company believes it is better to ask for
reasonable rate increases regularly than wait and hit customers with a large
increase at once.

When asked if customers will see more rate increase requests
after this August, Roberts said “We're in the business to provide service
to our customers. If we have to invest as infrastructure ages, we will continue
doing that and we will continue asking for rate relief for those

Aqua NC customer Juli Williams says she feels “nickled
and dimed.” She has been fighting rate increases with the water utility
for years.

Two years ago she started a Face book page, “Residents
against Aqua,” and gathered 3,000 signatures for an online petition.

“There's never a good time to propose rate increases
and nobody wants to pay more. … We are sympathetic to the economic challenges
in this state, but the fact of the matter is that the way our utility works is
we are asking for recovery of investments that have already been made and that
are already benefiting the customers since our last rate case,” Roberts

Roberts said the price per gallon is “reasonable, and I
think it is important to remember that we're still talking about a gallon of
potable water at your spigot for a penny a gallon.”

Williams says if her water was “potable,” she
wouldn't have a problem paying Aqua NC's prices.

“The water quality is bad. The old saying, 'You get
what you pay for,' well then we should have the best water in the country for
the prices that we're paying, and we don't,” Williams said.

“When the water quality is so horrible you have to
drink bottled water, and you're bathtubs and toilets have stains in them from
the water quality, you are paying a huge amount of money for nothing.”

Public hearings on the rate case are expected to begin
sometime this fall. Environmental groups like Clean Water for North Carolina
are already planning to protest.

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