BRYN MAWR, PA — Aqua Pennsylvania President Marc Lucca said today that content about the water utility posted on a website with a chesterwater.com URL is inaccurate, misleading and was purposely created to misinform residents about water rates and recreational activity on the Octoraro Reservoir.
“The entire purpose of the website is a campaign to portray Aqua Pennsylvania in a negative light,” said Lucca. “This is not simply an example of someone sharing a negative opinion. This website contains outright lies. We attempted to correct the information in a letter emailed to the webpage contact, but no one responded. The website information we are correcting is untrue.”
One example to which Lucca pointed is the assertion that Aqua Pennsylvania said it would ban all recreational activity on the reservoir. “Aqua owns thousands of acres of land throughout the Commonwealth. These lands are critical to our mission, which includes the protection of our watersheds and water supplies,” said Lucca.
“Aqua’s history with land ownership and reservoir management includes many examples that are contrary to what the website espouses.
He cited the following examples.
- Aqua owns and operates 9 billion gallons of surface water reservoirs in Southeastern Pennsylvania. It’s largest, the Green Lane Reservoir in Montgomery County, has a large fishing and boating operation that is managed by Montgomery County Parks and Recreation.
- Aqua donated nearly 30 acres of land along East Branch Brandywine Creek near its Ingram’s Mill Water Treatment Plant in East Bradford Township to the township to preserve as open space as part of its watershed preservation effort. In addition to ensuring that the land would not be developed, the donation extended a corridor of open space along the Brandywine in East Bradford Township to provide for a public trail easement through the property as well as a corridor for wildlife and passive recreation.
- Aqua worked with The Conservation Fund and the Mellon Foundation to ensure a 9,000-acre tract of woodlands in Northumberland and Columbia counties remained protected while granting first-time public access for residents to hike, hunt, fish, canoe, bike and watch wildlife. The land contains several reservoirs, ranging up to 266 acres, as well as a large swath of uninterrupted woodlands. The Conservation Fund acquired part of the tract from Aqua and another part of the tract was donated by Aqua to The Conservation Fund. The collective tracts—which at the time were the second largest addition to the state forestland in at least 10 years—were donated by The Conservation Fund to the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, which made it part of the commonwealth’s forest system as Weiser State Forest. Aqua maintains ownership of the reservoirs, permits some recreational activities thereon while limiting some others to protect the water supply and watershed.
“These examples demonstrate Aqua’s experience creating partnerships with municipal, county and state government that ensure the continued protection of its watersheds and drinking water sources while enabling recreational activity for the community where it can be managed responsibly,” said Lucca.
Another egregious piece of misinformation is about the company’s rates. Aqua Pennsylvania submitted a proposal in early March 2020 to the City of Chester in response to its February 2020 request for proposal.
The City of Chester made public the rates Aqua would charge if the city were to sell the assets to Aqua. As part of its response, Aqua offered up to $380 million to purchase the assets of the authority.
Aqua also submitted its rate expectations for the next decade, which included customer bills remaining at current levels until at least 2029 and an increase to an average bill of $45.88 in 2031. Customers would not see an increase in their bills until 2029 at the earliest.
Lucca said it is worth noting that Aqua Pennsylvania is regulated by the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission, whose members are appointed by the governor and confirmed by the State Senate.
As such, Aqua is unable to change water or sewer rates unless the company files and participates in a legal proceeding—a rate case—which typically takes nine months to complete its review and approval. Only then can rates change.
The case solicits input from multiple parties including representatives from the state attorney general’s office such as the Office of Consumer Advocate, Small Business Advocate and others whose sole purpose is to represent consumers. Individual customers can also intervene in rate cases on their own behalf.
Lucca said this rate process is in contrast to that of Chester Water Authority and other municipal authorities and municipal systems, which can unilaterally raise rates for any reason they see fit without justification and without public hearings.
He added that there is no governmental or regulatory oversight of the authority on what expenditures are made or not made.
“The Commonwealth holds Aqua to high standards of performance including those for water quality, customer service, emergency preparedness and technical innovation, each of which translates to a quality customer experience,” he said. “Our investment in critical infrastructure is achieving reliability that many other utilities cannot match.”
Aqua Pennsylvania filed its first rate request in 7 years in August 2018. Rates were awarded in March 2019 and went into effect in May 2019. Between rate filings, Aqua customers benefitted from an investment of more than $2 billion in capital improvements by Aqua in form of reliable operations and safe drinking water.
Lucca said that if Aqua were to purchase the CWA assets, Aqua is interested in maintaining a steering committee made up of key stakeholders similar to the one CWA has created and sustained as well as all of the employees who are currently employed by CWA.
Aqua Pennsylvania serves approximately 1.4 million people in 32 counties throughout the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Visit AquaAmerica.com for more information or follow Aqua on Facebook at facebook.com/MyAquaAmerica and on Twitter at @MyAquaAmerica.
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